Three straight conference wins coming into this one. Same five starters.
Starting lineup: Caruso/Harris/Jones/Fitzgerald/Roberson
It's time for another round of everyone's favorite game show... "At which point in the first half will Texas A&M stop playing offense?" Here are your options:
- To start the game. Spotting the opponent a lead is fun and exciting.
- In the middle of the half. This game is tiring.
- To close the half. Because orange slices
Congratulations to everyone who picked door #3! But let's step back a bit... because the Aggies did start strong today. MSU came out in a 2-3 zone (in lieu of their more traditional 1-3-1) and we killed it with two immediate threes (Caruso/Harris). We also managed to maintain that 4-5 point advantage for the majority of the half, getting a variety of contributors on offense to keep the Bulldogs at arm's length. The standout here was Davonte Fitzgerald (20 points / 7-15 FG / 3-6 3PT), who looked confident all day. Mississippi State, to their credit, never let the lead drift too far via a huge emphasis on forcing the ball down low, led by Gavin Ware (22 points / 8-11 FG / 10 rebounds).
And now we come to door #3. With the Bulldogs doing everything in their power to keep the game reasonably close, our Aggies fell asleep at the wheel en route to an 0-7 drought from the field. Pepper in a couple of TO's for good measure, and all of a sudden MSU was on a 10-2 run. A half that was comfortably in hand was suddenly up for grabs. Halftime score: Texas A&M 26, Mississipi State 27
I loved the response coming out the break, as Caruso (12 points / 6 rebounds / 4 assists) wasted no time dunking on a strong take to the rim. A&M continued to hit the rack at every opportunity early on, and took advantage by going 6-7 from the line. MSU had answers, however. They used a combination of transition buckets and more patient possessions down low to stay close during a frenzied opening 5-6 minutes of the half.
At this point, Jamal Jones (24 points / 8-11 FG / 2-3 3PT / 3 assists) and Fitzgerald really started to raise their game. Jones pulled up from 20 feet and drained it (looking very much like Middleton, who was always money from that range), and Fitzgerald followed with a
bad pass that went through 4 defenders great look from Caruso and a killer three. Just like that the Ags were up 10.
Crazy play #1: And then... an MSU player trying to dump the ball down low to Ware did such a poor job that the ball WENT IN THE DAMN BASKET. WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN.
To our credit, we didn't care. Jones found himself open from three in transition, and the whole bench stood up as soon as he released it. When he's open, the ball's going down. The Bulldogs put together another mini-run (again, by forcing the ball down low) to knock the lead from ten to four, but Jones AGAIN hit a momentum killing three to send the Ags into the under-eight timeout leading by seven.
Oddly enough, both teams came out of that break playing decent offensive basketball at the same time. It was very un-SEC. Two Caruso looks to Kourtney Roberson (8 points / 5 rebounds / 3-6 FG) down low and a high-low play from Jones to Roberson were offset by a Colin Borchert (14 points / 5 rebounds / 4-9 FG) mid-range shot and about 500 more looks from MSU down low. The last of which gave Roberson his fourth foul and knocked the Aggie lead to four. Tavario Miller was about to get his biggest minutes of the season.
Crazy play #2: This MSU push was aided by Shawn Smith fumbling an air ball rebound out of bounds. MSU got an and one on the ensuing possession. Little things.
The Stretch (A&M up four, four minutes remaining)
Roberson is by far our best option rolling to the basket, and the offense just didn't look right without him. We had three consecutive turnovers after Miller checked into the game, and the Bulldogs whittled the A&M lead to one. Jamal Jones (who else) pulled us out of this funk with a HUGE offensive putback, but MSU's Craig Sword (23 points / 7-11 FG / 6 rebounds / 5 assists) had an immediate answer. After a Fitzgerald miss from downtown, Caruso's 4th foul put Borchert at the line. He hit both and MSU had a one point lead with less than two minutes remaining.
But Jamal Jones tho. On (at that point) our biggest possession of the game, he willed his way to the bucket and hit a tough runner to put us back up by one. The ensuing MSU possession led to
some completely clean defense a "2013 foul" by Roberson, and he was gone. Ware only hit one of two, and the game was tied with a minute left.
MSU bailed us out with a foul on Caruso 30 feet from the basket, and he hit two BIG free to put us up two with 30 seconds remaining. We were one stop away from putting this one on ice.
And we get that stop.
Crazy play #3: The rebound falls to Miller and time stands still. The Aggie guards don't break to the ball, Miller doesn't dribble...... and his eventual pass is picked off by Ware for a game-tying layup. Crushing.
The final Aggie possession amounts to absolutely nothing (I could write another article on how bad this possession was) and we're headed to overtime.
Umm, overtime sucked. The two squads traded buckets, then another look to Ware and an offensive board by Ware (which fouled Caruso out) put the Bulldogs up by four. Jones (again) takes it hard to the rack, but only hits one of two from the line. A&M does get a stop on the ensuing possession, but Fitzgerald
is fouled right in front of the ref magically falls out of bounds and MSU retains possession. Yet ANOTHER bucket from Ware is the result, and after an ill-advised Space miss from downtown, an MSU transition bucket, and a Jordan Green offensive foul this one was over.
Some other stuff happened at this point. Technical fouls were given and Jamal Jones was ejected. Some in the A&M community have harped on that post game, and I'm just going to have to agree to disagree with those people. The kid played his heart out, forced his way to the bucket when the entire defense was keying on him, and was frustrated that it fell apart at the end. It happens. Shit happens. I won't knock him, and I hope Kennedy and the staff don't either.
Game MVP: Ware was a beast for MSU. We had absolutely no answer for his presence down low.
The MSU pass/shot three pointer. The air ball drop. The inexplicable turnover under our own basket. Roberson's fifth. The no-call on Fitz late. All of these things contributed to the MSU comeback, but our offensive execution was NOT where it needed to be in the second half. Had we played like we are capable of playing, we would have left with a victory regardless.
So.... what now? With three out of the next four on the road (including @ Florida and @ Kentucky), we're looking at a stretch where we want to escape 2-2. Starting 5-3 is nothing to be ashamed of, but I just can't shake the fact that we blew an opportunity to put together some REAL momentum.
Thoughts on the game today? Break any remotes/glasses? Hit the comments below.