PHOENIX—There will be plenty of fond memories, not to mention frequent flier miles, to commemorate Texas A&M’s beginning to the 2017-18 season. But the Aggies’ whirlwind trip across the world ended on a down note, falling 67-64 to Arizona on Tuesday night for its first loss.
“We survived traveling all over the road,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “To play well and give ourselves a chance to win tonight, I was proud of that.”
Since opening the season Nov. 10 at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, A&M has traveled more than 17,000 miles to play games in Europe, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Phoenix. In between it played just three times at home yet entered Tuesday with a 7-0 record and sporting wins over ranked West Virginia and USC teams.
Arizona marked the third foe the Aggies faced that began the season in the Associated Press Top 25, having been No. 3 in the preseason poll before falling out after an 0-3 performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The lack of a number in front of their name didn’t make the Wildcats (6-3) any less of a challenge, particularly with the neutral-site meeting only two hours from Arizona’s campus in Tucson.
“They definitely had a home court advantage,” Kennedy said of the crowd of 8,907 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “This was a good environment to get us prepared for conference play.”
A&M led 31-29 at the break but its defense broke down in the opening minutes of the second half. The Aggies were called for six fouls in the first three minutes after halftime, compared to one for Arizona.
“We put them on the line too many times,” Kennedy said.
Arizona ended up going 20-of-24 from the foul line, with 22 of those attempts coming in the second half, while A&M was just 7-of-10. That included three by Duane Wilson with two seconds left after he was fouled by Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton while attempting what would have been a game-tying three-pointer.
With A&M trailing 65-62, Wilson missed the first free throw before making the final two. Arizona’s Dylan Smith made a pair on the other end before Robert Williams’ desperation halfcourt three at the buzzer fell short.
“It’s frustrating to lose any game, but this one particularly,” said junior center Tyler Davis, who had a game-high 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting but was called for traveling on a baseline drive with 7.6 seconds left and A&M down 64-62. “This was a great lesson.”
A&M will be home for a little while after returning from Phoenix. Its next four games are in College Station, beginning Saturday, Dec. 9 against Prairie View A&M, with the Aggies’ next road trip coming Dec. 30 in the SEC opener at Alabama.
“It will be good to be home,” Kennedy said.