On Wednesday our Aggies welcomed Frank Martin and the 0-2 South Carolina Gamecocks to the friendly confines of Reed Arena. Could A&M make it 3-0 heading into Starkvegas on Saturday? Would Jamal Jones keep his hot streak alive? Will Frank Martin bench me through my laptop screen if I make a spelling error? It's SEC game time, Vol. III
We're undefeated in conference play and just came off the biggest win of the season. So we kept the same starting five rolling. Simple enough.
Full starting lineup: Harris/Caruso/Green/Jones/Roberson
Oh, Aggies. You do like to keep us on our heels. As our own JDMyatt noted in his South Carolina preview, this team is quite unpredictable... and they were determined to live up to that reputation. In front of the biggest home crowd of the season, our Ags submitted a myriad of over-aggressive turnovers and statuesque defensive rebounding, leading to an ugly opening seven minutes and a 14-3 South Carolina lead. (Quick note: While the timing of the first half swoon tends to vary, its existence does not. We need to get rid of this first half mess before the meat of the SEC schedule).
Now this is where things got interesting, because South Carolina really could have buried us. But with an 11 point lead and a comatose home crowd reeling, the Gamecocks rolled out 4-5 consecutive awful possessions. This led to a couple of easy Aggie buckets and a momentum-killing 6-0 A&M run. To be clear... these were not forced turnovers. This was a young, bad team collectively realizing "Wow, we could actually pull away here" and shrinking from the opportunity.
To their credit, the Gamecocks did turn it back on after our min-run, executing a couple of nice sets for open threes and hitting the offensive boards relentlessly (curse you, tall Lithuanian). We kept pace through a three by Alex Caruso (30 minutes; 7 assists / 3 points / 2 blocks), our daily steal + coast/coast from Jordan Green (20 minutes; 9 points / 2 rebounts / 5-8 FT) and a five point burst from Davonte Fitzgerald (18 minutes; 13 points / 6-7 FG / 3 rebounds). The Aggies were now 6-8 from the field after their abysmal start, and the storm was weathered.
The rest of the half didn't really contain a run from either side, as the two teams jockeyed for position while the fouls piled up (more on this later). And for once A&M used the charity stripe to their advantage, as they closed the half 9-13 from the line after starting 1-4. Caruso did miss a wide open alley-oop that may or may not make the #SCNotTop10... but forget I said anything. That never happened. Halftime score: Texas A&M 38, South Carolina 39
Would it surprise you if I said we started the second half slowly? Because we started the second half slowly. A handful of careless turnovers and a (questionable) moving screen call on Roberson led to a quick 6-1 run by South Carolina and a timeout by Kennedy. An early third foul on SC's Duane Notice (28 minutes; 12 points / 5 assists) helped slow the Gamecock offense, and the Ags responded with threes by Jamal Jones (35 minutes; 22 points / 3-7 3PT / 4 rebounds) and Fitzgerald to stem the tide.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the foul situation... which was just the most ridiculous freaking thing. We took the ball hard to the rack. Often. And SC chose to foul with aplomb, effectively putting us in the bonus WITH 17 MINUTES REMAINING. Our Aggies, being the good sports that they are, appeared to find this arrangement unfair as they repeatedly fouled 25 feet from the basket to put SC in the bonus WITH 12 MINUTES REMAINING.
As you might imagine, the rest of the game moved at a laughably slow pace... with trips to the foul line every couple of possessions. The teams traded free throws for a while, and SC did a nice job keeping us at around a 4-6 point deficit throughout the middle part of the 2nd half. Every time we cut the lead to a bucket they had an immediate response.
A&M finally broke through with seven minutes remaining, thanks in part to some more free throws. Antwan Space (28 minutes; 8 points / 4 rebounds / 2 assists) and Jones hit two FT's each and we had ourselves a 58-57 lead. After an Alex Caruso block on the ensuing SC possession, Shawn Smith (19 minutes; 14 points / 3-4 FG / 2-2 3PT / 6-8 FT) hit a HUGE corner three as the shot clock expired to put the Ags up four and force a Gamecock timeout.
To their credit, the Gamecocks responded to 60 seconds of Frank Martin fury with a couple of nice sets/buckets coming out of the break. But a Jones three, a slick pass from Caruso to Roberson, and a big offensive putback by Space pushed the A&M lead to six with three minutes remaining.
From there, the game was literally a free throw contest. Only one non-FT came in the final three minutes, (a somewhat fortuitous take by Jordan Green) and we shot well enough from the line to prevail. Final score: Texas A&M 75, South Carolina 67
Game MVP: I can't pick just one guy. The Texas A&M bench (65 minutes; 35 points / 11-16 FG / 3-5 3PT / 10-17 FT) came through on a day when we absolutely had to have them. Hats off to Space, Fitzgerald, and Smith.
Do you guys hear that? It sounds like legitimate momentum. With a very manageable section of the schedule ahead, a 5-2 (or even a 6-1) start is certainly a possibility.
Any thoughts on the game? Did you accidentally make eye contact with Frank Martin through your television? Hit the comments below.