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Aggie Hoops falls apart; drops 74-73 contest to UC Irvine

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The Aggies blew a 14 point second half lead and made shockingly poor decisions down the stretch.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

We knew this one was going to be dicey. UC Irvine is the preseason favorite to win the Big West, they are comfortably inside the KenPom Top100, and they’re patient.

In the back of my mind, I knew this was possible. But I can’t believe it happened.

Let’s break it down.

Box Score

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First Half

Gilder and Mitchell were held out due to injury concerns, which put us in a similar rotation for the second game running, and many of the same ball handling and distribution issues emerged. Our early possessions were ugly, but we were able to stick around due to our advantage on the boards.

We turned on the defensive effort as the first half waned, and that defense yielded easy buckets. But I want to bring something to your attention. It was our free throw shooting, specifically, that kept us in this game early.

Perhaps we are headed for a brave new world.

Halftime score: Texas A&M 42, UC Irvine 32

Second Half

We kept our first half momentum coming out of the break, but UC Irvine put together a 10-2 run to cut it down to six. We did a good job keeping them at bay for the majority of the second half, but with a few minutes remaining we hadn’t really pushed the lead any further.

At that point, I feel we got our first real look at this team. We were in a tight game coming down the stretch, and it was time to put our new style (and personnel) to the test.

Down The Stretch

In what was a harbinger of bad coaching decisions to come, we decide to go zone for the first time all season during a critical possession, and we immediately lose UCI’s white-hot shooter (Hazzard) for a three. Cool. Our lead is now three.

To be fair, we had some good moments before it all fell apart. Mekowulu proved himself a legitimate late game offensive option, and Nebo make some big plays on both ends during some critical possessions.

The problems, friends, were Billy Kennedy and TJ Starks.

Kennedy hoarded his timeouts and refused to interject when the game showed signs of slipping away, and Starks flat refused to run an offense or get his teammates involved when the game was truly on the line.

Texas A&M missed their last five shots to close the game, and four of those shots were taken by TJ Starks.

Ultimately, we got what we deserved. We were in no way prepared for any late game scenario, and our situational awareness was something you’d see from a Junior High B team.

Final score: UC Irvine 74, Texas A&M 73

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Individual Notes

Walker: This kid is going to play his way into the rotation, full stop. Another solid outing with some really good minutes.

Flagg: He had a late turnover, but he is far from the problem. Another quality outing, which included some really good minutes at the high post.

Starks: It started poorly, it got better, and it ended disastrously. He seems just as likely to transfer as he does to turn this ship around. Just an appalling start to the season. Almost incomprehensible.

Nebo: Really nice job in the second half when Mekowulu was in foul trouble. You can put this guy on the floor in crunch time. Oddly, we chose to remove him for our biggest defensive possession of the game, which is only the 34th worst coaching move of the evening.

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Next up is a true road game at #3 Gonzaga. If we don’t turn it around, we’re going to get run out of the building.

BTHO Gonzaga