It's the night before the biggest game in the modern era of Texas A&M Basketball, and we're huddled around a TV in the Reed Arena grass. Someone pops in a DVD of last year's sip beating in College Station. Jokes are made, opponents are researched on a new phenomenon called Facebook, and spirits are incredibly high. Tomorrow we play for our first tournament appearance in 19 years.
The first domino falls during Mark Turgeon's initial season. It started bright enough, as the good guys bagged a pre-season NIT title that included a championship victory over Ohio State. And while the conference slate wasn't perfect, we managed a split with every team in the Big XII South en route to an 8-8 conference record, a Baptism, and a run to the tournament semi's.
While some were worried about selection day, we made it in relatively comfortably as a #9 seed and earned a first round date with BYU (who we defeated 67-62). This set up a second round matchup with UCLA, the #1 seed in the West.
We all know what happened here. The Ags played great and built a ten point lead midway through the second half. Then the offense fell apart, Kevin Love started doing Kevin Love things, and Donald Sloan's no-call led to broken Aggie remotes across the country. We were that close to Sweet Sixteens in consecutive years.
I take a look back at the student section, and it's absolutely packed to the rafters. And it's still ninety minutes before game time. As I turn back towards the court it's almost impossible to take in the full scene... but I try. There are hand-made signs everywhere and the Rowdies are reading children's books to PJ Tucker. The stadium is at fever pitch, and it is bigger than any enthusiasm Fran managed to garner at Kyle.
Year Two under the Turge was less "second domino falling" and more "scramble to avoid complete disaster." It started with an early season loss to Tulsa, and it continued with a 3-7 opening to the Big XII campaign. But with most ready to write off the season entirely, the squad closed with a 6-0 burst (complete with this iconic Josh Carter moment) to grab another #9 seed in the dance. What was once a cause for celebration was quickly becoming old hat.
After another first round victory over BYU, the Ags were set to face UConn, the #1 seed in the east. And there would be no Cinderella story. The Huskies pounded us. Making the tournament was a gift considering the slow start, but the once-crazy momentum was ever so slowly dipping. Turge needed a big year three.
"The Shot" from Acie Law drops, and it's absolute pandemonium. I bound out of my seat with thousands of my closest friends, and the court becomes a sea of white. A "let us dance" sign is up somewhere. We're going to the dance. We just know it. We're actually f***ing going.
Turge got his big Year Three. A respectable early season run in the 76 Classic (going 2-1 against three ranked teams) saw the Ags jump into the top 25 for the first time in almost two years, but a horrific Derrick Roland injury at Washington threatened to derail the season.
A pedestrian 3-3 start to conference play didn't help matters, but the Ags closed on an 8-2 streak to re-enter the top 25 and close the season with an 11-5 conference mark. Twenty-two wins, combined with our salty non-conference schedule, landed our boys a #5 seed. We were finally primed to do some damage away from the top line. After dispatching #12 seed Utah State (farewell, fellow Aggies) the good guys matched up against #4 Purdue.
And boy, did this game hurt. More than all the others. With a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup against #1 Duke in Houston on the line (along with a potential Elite Eight matchup against Baylor), our Ags suffered a soul crushing two point loss to a Boilermaker squad missing their best player. In overtime, of course. I will always wonder what that team could have accomplished with a full season of Roland.
Our referendum on the Billy Kennedy era is coming soon, and JDMyatt's piece on the future of Aggie Basketball touches on the more recent personnel issues... but I felt it was important to look back at the opportunity we had to build on BCG's success. Turgeon did some good things for us, but he didn't leave the program in better shape than he found it. And those three events (the UCLA and Purdue losses, along with Roland's unfortunate injury) cost us a chance to really announce ourselves on the college basketball scene.
The next guy has work to do.
"Here, you're going to need this. Turn on ESPN"
My buddy hands me a Lone Star. It's 10:30 in the morning and I'm crashing on his near-NG couch after an undergraduate evening of poor decisions. It has been over a year since the magical win in Reed.
I click on the TV... and Billy Gillispie is headed to Kentucky. The rumors were true. It stings, but I know we're going to get through it. We have the resources, the recruiting base, and FINALLY the fan support to succeed at this sport for a long time.
We've finally made it as a basketball school.