COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Louisiana-Monroe has had plenty of tough luck so far this season. Khris Middleton returned just in time to keep the Warhawks from breaking that trend.
Middleton, returning from a seven-game absence because of a knee injury, scored 24 points to lift No. 22 Texas A&M to a 67-54 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.
"I'd heard he was going to play, and he was the story of the game," ULM coach Keith Richard said of Middleton. "He really flexed his muscles in the second half and took the game over."
ULM (1-8) had played at three Southeastern Conference opponents prior to facing its first Big 12 foe this season, and the 13-point margin was the closest of the four games.
"We've been a poor defensive team this year, and haven't been too bad on offense," Richard said. "But I thought we did a decent job defensively against the Aggies."
The Aggies (8-1) broke a 43-all tie with 13:19 remaining by scoring the next 11 points, including four from Middleton.
"It felt good to be back," Middleton said. "Just sitting there and watching practice for three weeks and seeing where I could be helping my teammates — I just wanted to be out there."
Middleton scored 14 in the second half and eclipsed 20 in a game for the fourth time in his career and first time this season.
Hugh Mingo paced the Warhawks (1-8) with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Keith Davis snagged a career-high nine rebounds for A%M, which shot 45.8 percent (22 of 48) from the floor, while ULM shot just 37.3 percent (22 of 59). The Aggies have held all nine of their opponents under 41 percent this season. Still, A&M coach Billy Kennedy wasn't pleased with the play of his big men.
"We have to do a better job overall on the defensive end, and tonight our post guys struggled defensively," Kennedy said. "We had to go small in the first half because of that."
The Warhawks have struggled throughout the season, but kept the game tight by outscoring the Aggies 16-5 over the first 5 minutes of the second half to rally from a 38-27 halftime deficit. But A&M, led by Middleton, outscored ULM 24-11 the rest of the way.
"A&M is the sixth-ranked defensive team in the country, so you're scared you won't score a point in 40 minutes," Richard said, smiling slightly. "So I'm proud of our guys. If we had played them without Middleton, we might have taken them to the wire."
The smaller Warhawks tried making up for their size disadvantage by gunning from the outside, but finished 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) from the 3-point line. The Aggies made just as many in about half the attempts (5 of 13).
Middleton, a 6-foot-7 NBA prospect, led the Aggies in scoring last year with 14.4 points per game. His presence Saturday helped the Aggies spread things out offensively.
"When he's out there it helps open up a lot of the offense and teams have to pay attention to multiple guys," A&M guard Elston Turner said. "With Khris and I on the outside and David Loubeau and Ray Turner on the inside, that's a pretty tough matchup for anyone. It's good to have him back, and it was easy to see he was ready for this game."
The Aggies won their 67th consecutive nonconference home game. A&M wrapped up a six-game homestretch against subpar competition with its sixth straight victory. The Aggies next play Florida on Saturday in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla. The Warhawks play host to Nicholls State, the only opponent they've defeated this season, on Monday night.