From an opening possession turnover to the buzzer, Mountaineer fans chanted in unison every time the former walk-on touched the ball. As the first half went on, the chants only grew louder and eventually the sophomore broke. The Mountaineers’ defense, better known as “Press Virginia”, proceeded to swallow up Collins to the point where a between-the-legs dribble resulted in a wipeout and turnover. Despite how rattled Collins clearly was, there was no subsitution resulting in a 6-minute scoring drought and a 16-point halftime deficit.
Though the Ags put on a valiant rally, the hole dug in the 1st half was just too big to escape. In the end, A&M nearly escaped Morgantown with a victory over a top-20 program, but the same issues remain that have plagued this disastrous season.
Despite today’s result, the last three games have been the best basketball Texas A&M’s played to this point. When the Ags succeeded against WVU’s press, the ball movement looked crisp leading to open looks from three or created for the bigs down low. The Ags have done this even without their 2nd leading scorer DJ Hogg who sat for the 2nd straight with a toe injury.
So with the lack of depth and a 1-5 start to conference play, this unit continues to improve and show resiliency when games get out of hand. The turnovers and scoring droughts may prove to be too much, but today at least showed the Ags could still be a tough out for any opponent left on the schedule.
The biggest mystery of this season may be Billy Kennedy’s decision to keep Chris Collins on the court while the game got out of hand during the 1st half. The Aggie backcourt remains the main talking point behind this year’s struggles, but it’s hard to say there wasn’t a better option at the point than to keep the sophomore in. When the hometown are faithful are cheering the loudest when your guard has the ball, it might time to make a change.
It took until several minutes into the 2nd half when Kennedy finally relinquished, subbing in Chase Carlton. The sophomore from Austin performed admirably on defense, and simply not getting overwhelmed by the press jump started A&M to cut their deficit down to 6 late in the 2nd half.
JC Hampton also stepped up in a big way, scoring 21 points with several clutch 3-pointers that nearly made for a miraculous last-minute comeback. Hopefully Collins will bounce back from this rough day, but Hampton and now Carlton could provide help for Gilder in the backcourt.
One final positive is today’s game had zero effect on A&M’s SEC standings, keeping them at 3-5. Their next three match-ups come against the bottom three of the SEC. Victories in all those would put the Ags at 6-5 going into a must-have signature contest against #25 Florida. The table is set for one last chance to turnaround the season, and it starts Tuesday at Reed Arena at 8pm.