COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Buzz Williams could finally exhale. He got his first game as Texas A&M's head coach out of the way.
"I need to improve my (emotional) endurance just as much or more as my kids," Williams said following the Aggies' 77-63 victory over Northwestern State on Wednesday night. "At times I was exhausted. I know that's not the right thing to say after game No. 1, but that's the truth."
A&M's Savion Flagg, a junior forward and the team's top returning player, made 9 of 11 shots from the field in leading all scorers with 22 points.
"Everybody was pretty much locked in to what we were trying to do," Flagg said of the Aggies' new approach under Williams.
The Aggies shot 56 percent (28 of 50) from the floor, compared to 34 percent (25 of 73) by the Demons. A&M (1-0) also overwhelmed NSU (1-1) inside, holding a 44-20 advantage in points in the paint. Nikos Chougkaz led the Demons with 12 points.
NSU coach Mike McConathy described his Southland Conference squad featuring eight new players as "all over the map" on the Southeastern Conference court.
"I always say (to the players) when you go and play in these venues, embrace the idea that you're getting to do this," McConathy said. "(Playing here) will help us down the road tremendously."
Quenton Jackson scored 13 points for the Aggies and Jay Jay Chandler added 11 for A&M. The teams were about even in turnovers, with the Aggies committing 14 and the Demons committing 13. Chandler committed five of A&M's turnovers.
Williams, a 47-year-old native Texan, came to Texas A&M from Virginia Tech, where he led the Hokies to a school-record three consecutive NCAA Tournaments in his five seasons there. The Aggies led by 21 points on Wednesday before the Demons cut A&M's lead to seven points with 3:44 remaining. A&M closed out the contest on a 10-3 run.
"In simplest terms, we just exhaled," said Williams, a former A&M assistant 13 years, of why the Aggies allowed NSU to cut the once-bulging lead to single digits. "I don't think our endurance emotionally is where it has to be in order to be a good team."
Texas A&M: The Aggies were a little slow out of the gate in the Williams debut but eventually began playing the style of ball that made him a winner at Marquette and Virginia Tech. Reed Arena was about a quarter full for his first game, but as Williams has said, winning consistently will bring fans.
Northwestern State: The Demons were quickly brought back to earth by their SEC opponent after opening the season with an 84-57 thumping of Centenary at home on Tuesday. Despite the 14-point loss Wednesday, the Demons know taking on this kind of competition early will help them in Southland Conference play starting next month.
The Aggies stay home to face Louisiana-Monroe on Monday.
Northwestern State hosts Rice on Tuesday.
The Aggies played without guard T.J. Starks, who's out for at least two weeks with an ankle sprain. Forward Josh Nebo, who also missed most of training camp with an apparent hamstring injury, suited up but did not play.
The Demons led 12-10 when the Aggies' Jackson cut into the lane, was fouled hard but made a short jumper to tie the game. Jackson made the resulting free throw and the Aggies never glanced back.
Guard Wendell Mitchell served up a perfect alley-oop offering to Flagg for a slam dunk on a fast break and the loudest roar of the night in lifting the Aggies to a 16-12 lead.
HE SAID IT
"He has a lot of energy and will work hard. He was 27 years old when he came to work for me, and he got after it. He works hard, he's passionate and he cares about his kids. He cares about his family and he cares about Texas A&M."
NSU coach Mike McConathy on his former assistant Buzz Williams (1999-2000)