COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M is leaning more and more on a couple of transfers to lead the way in a season of transition. Christian Mekowulu and Brandon Mahan each scored 20 points as A&M defeated Valparaiso 71-49 on Wednesday night.
The Aggies (5-4) held a 16-point lead at halftime and the Crusaders (6-6) trailed by double digits the rest of the way, in an anticlimactic second half. Bakari Evelyn led Valpo with 10 points, the lone Crusader to score in double figures.
Mekowulu is a senior transfer from Tennessee State and Mahan is a sophomore transfer from Chipola College.
"I've just been working all week in practice," Mekowulu said. "And my shot was falling tonight."
Added Mahan: "I've been in the gym, working on my shot consistently."
The Aggies led 34-18 at the break, getting 14 first-half points from Mekowulu and holding a 25-15 rebounding advantage in that span.
Mahan and Mekowulu made a combined 15 of 19 from the field, including 8 of 9 by Mekowulu, mostly from in the paint. Mahan was 4-of-7 from 3-point range, while Valpo finished 3 of 22 from behind the arc.
"Their athleticism bothered us," Valpo coach Matt Lottich said. "From their first guy to their last guy, they were more athletic across the board. They took us out of a lot of our action, and we just didn't make our shots."
A&M starting guard TJ Starks played 13 minutes in the first half and four in the second, and Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said afterward Starks had a subpar shootaround and wasn't impactful early in the game, leading to his reduced playing time.
Mekowulu and Mahan each recorded A&M career highs in scoring in their abbreviated stints with the Aggies.
"Mahan showed what he's capable of doing, and it's good to see him be aggressive offensively," Kennedy said.
A&M: Senior guard Admon Gilder remains sidelined with an undisclosed health issue, but the Aggies are on a roll without their leader, who might not return this season. Guards Wendell Mitchell, Starks and Mahan are picking up the slack, and Mekowulu is providing some surprising offensive pop inside.
VALPO: The Crusaders earned some valuable experience for Missouri Valley Conference play in taking on a Southeastern Conference foe on the road, despite a sparse setting during the holidays, but getting so far down early can't be good for their confidence moving forward. Fortunately for Valpo it faces Division II Purdue Northwest at home prior to cranking up league play.
The small crowd had long gone quiet in the lopsided game when Mekowulu skied for a dunk on a fast break following a pin-point pass from Mitchell. For at least one more moment, A&M fans had reason to cheer in a mostly empty arena.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Aggies collected five blocks, including three by Josh Nebo and two by Mekowulu. A&M doesn't have nearly the size it possessed last year, when big men Robert Williams and Tyler Davis ruled the inside, but the Aggies entered the game ranked eighth nationally with 6.3 blocks per game.
HE SAID IT
"I would say all of it."
Mahan when asked how much the Aggies' defense was responsible for the Crusaders' poor outside shooting.
A&M plays host to Marshall on Saturday in trying to win five consecutive games for the first time since November of last year.
Valpo takes a break for Christmas and then plays host to Purdue Northwest on Dec. 29.
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