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Aggie Basketball Drops Close One at Arkansas

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An offensive exhibition gave the Aggies an opportunity to upset one of the SEC tourney favorites, but coming up short leaves us looking for moral victories

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Originally scheduled for February 6, this was the only February contest successfully postponed and played later with the other seven games being canceled. Going into the game, most observers expected the matchup to be a battle between two distinct styles of play – the Aggies’ grinding defensive swarm vs the Razorbacks’ fast-paced offensive barrage. The statistics and conference rankings seemed to indicate this as well, with the Hogs ranking first in SEC scoring offenses at 83 points per game, while the Aggies were ranked third in scoring defense at 65 points per game. However, the Ags seemed more than happy to oblige the Razorbacks’ up-tempo style in a game that saw the two teams combine to score 167 points.

First Half

Quenton Jackson started the scoring immediately with a breakaway dunk off of the opening tip. The Aggies would seize that momentum, hitting five of their first seven shots including a pair of threes by Jackson and another triple by Savion Flagg to take an early lead. However, Arkansas standout freshman guard Moses Moody, who ranks third in SEC scoring, opened with an offensive barrage of this own, hitting two threes and a transition dunk in the first four minutes of the game. From the earliest stages of the game, the Hogs seemed intent on limiting Emanuel Miller’s impact on this game after his offensive outburst against Mississippi State. Eman faced a steady stream of double teams, keeping him visibly uncomfortable and forcing him into several difficult shots.

At the first media timeout, the Razorbacks held a 14-13 advantage, but the Aggies hot shooting continued coming out of the break, while the defense forced the Hogs into several missed shots and turnovers. The Aggies went on a 16-2 run over a six minute span in the middle of the first half, giving them a 35-21 lead with just over seven minutes remaining. Arkansas coach Eric Musselman utilized the under 8:00 media timeout to make defensive adjustments to slow down the Aggies, and Moody combined with Jalen Tate to get the Arkansas offense back on track. Musselman’s Razorbacks would close the final seven minutes on a 17-6 run to close the deficit to just 3 points at halftime.

The Aggies limited themselves to just six turnovers in the first half while capitalizing on Arkansas’ six turnovers with nine points. While Eman Miller struggled in the opening half, shooting 1-of-5 from the floor, Quenton Jackson had a tremendous first half, shooting 6-of-9 for 14 points. The Aggies’ collective hot hand from behind the arc was the difference, as they went 7-for-15 from beyond the arc. While the Razorbacks started the game hot from distance with four 3s in the first 5 minutes, they primarily would rely on points in the paint for their first half scoring, making only one 3 pointer over the final 15 minutes of the half.

Halftime Score: Texas A&M 41, Arkansas 38

Second Half

Emanuel Miller found his touch early in the second half. He led the Aggies on a 10-4 run in the first three minutes of the second half to push Texas A&M’s lead back to nine, 51-42. However, miscues on both ends of the floor would cost the Ags their lead just five minutes later. as Arkansas forced Ags into a series of turnovers, and the Aggies gave up open looks and offensive boards to the Razorbacks, who took a one point lead with 11:52 remaining, 57-58.

It would be a back and forth game for the next six minutes. Jalen Tate took over as the primary scoring threat for the Hogs during this stretch, while Jackson, Miller, and Flagg kept the Aggies in the game. With 6:00 remaining, the game was evened up at 69-69.

Coming down the stretch, the Aggies, led by Miller and Jackson, would grind out tough buckets to keep the score even. When Andre Gordon was called for a block on a Jalen Tate made layup with 1:23 to play, it appeared that the chance for a three-point play was putting the Aggies’ chances in serious peril. However, video review reversed the call, taking the points off the board, giving Texas A&M the ball, and Andre Gordon a new comfy pair of socks. On the ensuing offensive possession, Savion Flagg put back an Eman jumper and was fouled in the process, giving the Ags a chance at a three-point lead. However, Flagg missed the free throw, and Moses Moody would drill a dagger from the outside to give the Hogs a one-point lead. A bad inbounds pass from Flagg coming out of a timeout would give Arkansas a fast break dunk to extend the lead, 81-78 with 41 seconds to play. The Aggies ran a set play to give Quenton Jackson a tremendous look at a wide open corner three to tie it up, but the shot rimmed out, and the Hogs iced the game with free throws.

Final Score: Texas A&M 80, Arkansas 87

Postgame Interviews

Final Thoughts

In a disappointing campaign such as the 20-21 season, you are certainly forgiven for looking to find the moral victories in close losses. This definitely qualifies as a moral victory. An Aggie team that didn’t play a game for an entire month went into Bud Walton Arena to face the #12 team in the country that hadn’t lost in their last 10 conference games. Texas A&M shot the ball well, kept up with a team that typically operates at a breakneck pace, and was a shot away from taking this game to the wire. Emanuel Miller continued to grow as a scoring threat, going 7-10 in the second half to finish with 23 points after struggling to go 1-5 in the first. He tied for the team lead in scoring with Quenton Jackson, who was 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Texas A&M was in control offensively when they were aggressive and decisive. When the Ags got tentative and spent too much time dribbling on the perimeter, Arkansas exploited that and utilized defensive pressure to create turnovers. Both teams shot 31-61 from the field, with the Aggies hitting ten 3 pointers to Arkansas’ nine. To their credit, the Razorbacks were more aggressive in getting to the rim and drawing fouls, giving them the 20 free throw attempts to just 10 for the Aggies, and that turned out to be the difference in this game.

Next up, the Aggies head to Nashville for the SEC Tournament. They will face Vanderbilt on Wednesday night at 6:00 CT in the opener, with the winner moving on to face Florida on Thursday. At this point, a team that was forced to cancel over 25% of its games for the season is simply looking to get as much game experience as possible. A win on Wednesday over lowly Vanderbilt would give the Ags one more opportunity to take the floor and make progress toward next season.

BTHO Vandy