Well the least you can say is this basketball team certainly is not boring. For the third straight game, A&M fans's hearts, psyches and blood pressure were put through the ringer once again as the Aggies prevailed in another down-to-the-wire victory over the Florida Gators, 71-68.
Florida came into Reed Arena as one of the nation's top defenses, and put together one of their better shooting performances tonight to nearly upset the 14th-ranked Aggies. A 3-pointer by Dorian Finney-Smith cut the A&M lead to only one. The Ags were challenged to make their free throws and senior, Anthony Collins, continued his perfect streak and hit four straight from the charity stripe to give A&M a 3-point lead. He followed the free throws by drawing an illegal screen foul on John Egbunu with 7 seconds left and giving A&M the ball. So the game was certainly over then, right? Nope, like a horror wanting to get that last scare in the final frame, Danuel House fumbled the inbounds pass and Florida's Chris Chiozza somehow found himself with a wide-open, game-tying 3-point opportunity that fortunately clanged off the rim as time ran out.
It was not pretty, but Texas A&M closed out another tight game and improved their conference record to 4-0 for the first time since....
Wait for it...
Okay, just hang with me on this...
Since Acie Law IV took the 2006-'07 squad to the Sweet 16.
Take that as you may, but we are nearly a quarter of a way through SEC play and Texas A&M remains in sole position of 1st place.
Here are some quick takeaways:
Jalen Jones is on another level right now
We are only four games into SEC season, but Jalen Jones is playing 1st Team All-Conference and arguably All-American basketball right now. We'll see if he keeps up the pace, but in 3 of the last 4 conference games (Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida), he's averaged 27 points and nearly 6 rebounds. And it's not just the points he's putting up, but the efficiency in which he's doing it in. In those three games, he's made 27 of 41 shots (66%).
There came a moment late in the 2nd half where A&M had the ball lead with minute left and a 4-point lead. A score by the Aggies would nearly seal the game, and Coach Billy Kennedy decided to call an isolation play for Danuel House. While House has usually been the go-to option for those types of shots, it felt like it should have been Jones with the ball in that moment. The senior is playing with amazing confidence and is clicking in all phases of the game.
Also for the second straight game, much of the production fell on the shoulders of the seniors without much support from the freshmen class. Tyler Davis had an average night (8 points, 5 rebounds on 3-7 shooting), but DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder combined for 3 points on 1-8 shooting.
Hogg and Gilder are amazing talents and it's just a matter of time before their shots go in, but the Aggies will greatly need their production to back up the scorers in Jones/House if they want to contend for a SEC title.
This past Saturday, A&M allowed 88 points to an undersized Tennessee squad. Tonight, they allowed 40 2nd half points to a Florida team that ranked last in the SEC in 3-point percentage (28.3%). For a team that struggles mightily from beyond the arc, sophomore guard Chris Chiozza still had 8 assists and the Gators continually got into the paint for easy buckets underneath the basket.
It seems like help defense is becoming an issue on the defensive side of the court. The Aggies had several opportunities to put the game out of reach, but their defense was unable to hold Florida and continually let them back into the game. If the Gators shoot a little better than 4-12 from the free throw line, tonight might not have been so lucky.
Overall, while a couple of concerns are being raised, it cannot be said enough that when the pressure heightens, this Aggie teams continues to maintain their composure and not panic.
A special shout out goes to Anthony Collins and his clutch free throws down the stretch. The senior shot once the entire game, and his first free throw attempts come in the most pressure-packed moment of the game. He'll never light up the scoreboard, but when you need it the most, Collins is not afraid to step to the line and hit the big shot.
Tonight's victory improves A&M's record to 14-2. This Saturday, they head back on the road into Athens for an afternoon matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Note: A couple of edits. Florida had one of the nation's best DEFENSES, not offenses. And A&M allowed 40 2ND HALF POINTS to Florida. Sorry for the mishap there.