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Instant Reaction: Texas A&M just stole a basketball game at Tennessee

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Texas A&M trailed for the entire afternoon, but finished the game on a stellar 16-4 run to move to 3-0 in SEC play.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

This team never gives up.

After an early 5-2 lead today, the Aggies didn't see the lead again until 85-84. For 85-90% of the game, A&M focused efforts solely on staying in striking distance... and succeeded, never really falling further than a dozen points behind Tennessee.

With 3:30 left, after edging a little closer... the Ags sprang the trap. A 16-4 run that flat stole this basketball game from the Vols.

I love this team. They just never give up. Let's break it down.

Gigthem08

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Defensive Identity

First, the bad news.... what are we on defense? Do we press high? Do we play man and switch everything? Do we play zone?

Today's answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We threw everything at Tennessee and none of it worked. At times, we were a bit too stubborn with the zone... but it ultimately worked late. Barely. The offensive glass was also a huge problem today.

Tennessee shot 49% from the field and 44% from downtown, with 12 offensive rebounds.

I love that we shot our way out of trouble, but it was the first time in a while that our defense looked really suspect.

Bombs Away

We were putrid in Starkville, but our offense fired on all cylinders today.

  • Jalen Jones had 27 and he didn't attempt a single three. He had been hot late, but his poor shooting in Starkville focused his efforts inside. And he was fantastic.
  • House had 23 and he was more efficient than he has been in weeks. 8-15 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and 2-7 from downtown.
  • Caruso and Collins keep nailing threes. Caruso was 3-4 and Collins was 1-1. When these guys keep defenses honest from deep, this Aggie offense is dang near unstoppable.

Fighting through some blind zebras

Full disclosure: I'm not usually a "the refs were terrible" guy. But the refs were terrible.

Tennessee guards were repeatedly bailed out on out-of-control drives, while their forwards were able to aggressively protect the rim with no calls. The Volunteers lead the SEC in blocks per game, and their ability to limit our chances at the rim was a huge factor for most of the day.

But again, we shot our way out of trouble. Because this team doesn't quit.


JDMyatt

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SENIORS, SENIORS, SENIORS

There is no doubt the game ball goes to the senior corps of Jalen Jones, Danuel House, Alex Caruso, and Anthony Collins. Here are their stat lines.

Jalen Jones: 27 points (10-15 shooting, 7-7 FT), 7 rebounds

Danuel House: 23 points (8-15 shooting, 5-7 FT), 5 rebounds

Alex Caruso: 13 points (3-4 shooting, 4-6 FT), 5 rebounds, 7 assists

Anthony Collins: 5 points (1-1 shooting, 2-2 FT), 9 assists, 3 rebounds

Those stats don't include the turnovers created on defensive and the poise the four kept while dealing with multiple double-digit deficits against an aggressive Tennessee squad. Throughout the second half, A&M would claw back and bring the deficit down to 6 or so only for the Vols to immediately hit some dagger shots to extend the lead back into double digits. Many obstacles stood in their way, but the senior leaders continued to attack and put together a remarkable 54-point 2nd half to survive in Knoxville.

The Ags have a bright future ahead with the freshmen class, but this year's squad will go as far as Jones/House/Caruso/Collins can take them.

Slow Starts on the Road

For the second time this week, the Aggies came out flat to start the game and Tennessee jumped on them early. Despite a substantial height disadvantage, Rick Barnes's squad flew around the court and attacked on defense by sending immediate double teams each time the ball went inside the paint.  The Aggies looked overwhelmed at times during the first half and it almost put them in a hole they could not climb out of.

Today's victory, as well the one against Mississippi State, were tremendous displays of perseverance, but starts like these are probably something Coach Kennedy doesn't want to make a habit of on the road.


Free Throws Won the Last Two Games

It's been an area of concern for most of the season, but for the second time in a row the Aggies made their free throws in two games where they needed every one. A&M shot 74% from the line against Mississippi State, and 75% today. In a game where the refs sounded their whistles quite often, the Ags took advantage of the opportunities given to them.

It was certainly not the finest performance on defense, but this A&M squad proved to themselves today that there is no deficit they cannot overcome. And when Jalen Jones and Danuel House are both clicking, there are not many offenses in the country better than the maroon and white.

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Florida comes to town in four days, and this team deserves a raucous crowd.

BTHO Florida and GET TO REED!