Texas A&M took this game lightly, which might be expected after our difficult start to the season, and it led to some nervy moments in the second half.
It was nice to see the addition of JJ Caldwell, however, and we did finally wake up when it mattered late.
Let’s break it down.
The full squad is here! (mostly)
Ok, it’s not the full squad (Flagg was out injured), but this was our first chance to see how the rotation looked with JJ Caldwell, who played the last 10 minutes of each half.
An early 9-1 run had us feeling like we could tune out by halftime, but Pepperdine responded with a 9-0 run of their own, punctuated by a three from a dude raised just down the road in Tomball. I’m not sure what exactly paves the road from Tomball to Pepperdine, but notice had been served all the same: this wasn’t going to be an early rout.
Starks and Chandler led the second unit to a comfortable lead later in the half, but the Waves looked up for the fight the entire time. Another great half of outside shooting spotted us a lead that was a little wider than we deserved.
Halftime Score: Texas A&M 41, Pepperdine 28
We didn’t really learn in the second half
We took our first half lessons back to the locker room, we thoughtfully considered them, and we ignored them completely en route to an overwhelmingly meh first six minutes that allowed Pepperdine to cut the halftime lead down to six.
We tried posting up Tonny (didn’t work), we tried posting up Williams (didn’t work), and we completely lost our free throw composure from the first four games. A continued ambivalence on offense, along with Pepperdine sticking to a 2-3 zone on defense, led to our first significant Aggie scoring drought of the season (almost four minutes)
We did finally bust the lead back to double digits, but we did it mostly based on size (offensive boards) and athleticism (steals / hitting the break). I prefer to see crisp offensive sets against teams of an inferior caliber... but that flat out wasn't there in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
With Pepperdine refusing to lay down, we kinda looked around at each other and collectively said “fine, let’s turn it on,” stringing together a series of really good offensive and defensive possessions to put the game to bed. We got some great looks for Davis down low, a couple of long overdue threes, and some transition buckets to finally put the game on ice.
Final Score: Texas A&M 81, Pepperdine 65
What do we do with our big men against the zone?
Now that we’ve walked through the win, let’s hit the largest outstanding question of the evening - why were we struggling so much with the 2-3 zone?
- Trocha wasn’t great in the high post tonight. That pass to the free throw line can break a 2-3 zone in half... if the right play is made at the high post. Quickly. Tonny was a little indecisive in that position tonight, and it allowed the D to recover.
- We stopped making all of the shots. We were 9-26 (35%) from deep, and stringing together a couple of threes is the easiest way to force your opponent out of a zone. We couldn’t hit, and they hung around.
It’s worth noting that we did make a couple of adjustments later in the half. Davis looked comfortable at the top of the key against the zone when Williams was in the game, and Williams himself flashed to the high post a few times to leave Davis down low. They both made quality entry passes to each other... but neither was forced to shoot from fifteen feet. File that away, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see future opponents concede that jump shot to either guy.
A few random bullets before we close this out
- We posted up Hogg, and he looked smooth. I like it.
- After a sensational start from the free throw line, the team cooled down a little (14-22; 63.6%)
- Kameron Edwards (20 points, 9 rebounds) was stellar for Pepperdine, routinely attacking the rim against Williams and Davis with success. If you succeed at that level against this front line, you’re legit.
- Caldwell didn’t do anything sensational, but he looked good within the offense. I’m guessing he’ll need a few games to truly make his mark.
- Jay Jay Chandler (10 points) looked really smooth in transition. He’s carving out a nice niche as a slasher who can do some damage with reserve minutes.
- Robert Williams (4 points; 7 rebounds; 6 assists; 3 blocks) didn’t light up the score sheet, but played a very effective all-around game
There’s a huuuuuge game on the docket this Sunday night at No. 10 USC. It’s a 9pm tip on the PAC12 network.