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Aggie Hoops fades down the stretch, drops season finale to Kentucky 71-63

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Texas A&M shot out to an impressive lead, but succumbed to free throw issues down the stretch

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This one stings.

In our preview, we noted that our hopes were contingent on Kentucky not bringing their best effort:

The Cats have won seven straight, clinching at least a share of the conference title, and they haven't really looked their best in the process. There's this scary, hidden A+ game lurking in their midst, and we have to hope they don't access it today.

They didn’t bring their best effort.

The Cats were lethargic for large stretches of the first half, they shot uncharacteristically poor when they had open looks, and surefire lottery pick Malik Monk (2-10 FG; 6 points) was held fifteen points below his season average.

The pieces were there. Kentucky, for lack of a better word, was very upsettable.

It started out great

The opening eight minutes were essentially a Texas A&M Basketball dream sequence, as some hot shooting and a Kentucky cold streak led to an unbelievable 19-4 scoreline. The building was hopping, the Wildcats looked nervous, and you couldn’t be blamed if you started to imagine a world where we knocked off Kentucky to move to 9-9.

Then, as is tradition, we hit a four minute scoreless streak.

I figured Kentucky would use that time to climb back into the game... but they were still pretty cold. At the eight minute mark the lead was still 20-13, and when Tyler Davis scored to extend the lead to nine, it felt like we had survived the drought.

We scored one additional point over the next five minutes.

The Cats didn’t need a third invitation, and the resulting 32-28 halftime deficit put fans in a weird place, mentally. It wasn’t a bad situation, but given the way Kentucky was playing, it could (should) have been so much better.

Free Throws.

De’Aaron Fox hit two quick threes to start the second half, and the Kentucky lead never fell below four points again. That’s not meant to suggest that we didn’t have our chances, though, because we really could have made this thing much more interesting.

If only we had hit some free throws.

Our overall percentage (12/25; 48%) was abysmal, but the timing was somehow even worse. Every time we knocked the second half deficit down to a manageable size, the free throw line betrayed us. For example:

  • Down ten, Williams misses both free throws
  • Down eight, Davis misses the front end of a one-and-one
  • Down six, Carlton misses the front end of a one-and-one

Coach Kennedy said it best after the game

Against a Top 10 team, you have to do the little things right.

Robert Williams is ready for the NBA

His free throw shooting (1/5) was off, but everything else about his game was completely unaffected by the quality of yesterday’s competition.

  • 20 points (9/15 shooting); 13 rebounds (6 offensive); 2 blocks; 0 turnovers

Rumors continue to swirl regarding his decision to stay for a second year, but he certainly looked ready to make the jump yesterday. Kentucky is the most athletic team we’ll face all year, and they simply had no answer for him.

**************

Next up is Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament on Thursday (6pm; SEC Network). We need a mini-run in this tourney if we want to make the NIT, and we (obviously) need to win the whole thing to make the NCAA’s.

It’s been a rough year, gang. Special thanks to everyone who continues to stick it out and join us for basketball talk. It is much appreciated.

BTHO Vanderbilt