Buzz Williams opened his fourth season at the helm in Aggieland with a pair of decisive wins against over mid-major opponents. While neither win is a signficant resume builder, it was nice to see the Aggies rack up the style points against lesser competition. These victories proved to be enough to vault A&M into the Top 25 of the AP poll.
Now the Aggies head to South Carolina for the Myrtle Beach Invitational, an 8 team made-for-TV tournament hosted on the campus of Coastal Carolina University and produced by ESPN Events. A&M opens with Murray State today on ESPN2 at 3:30 PM CT. They share the top of the bracket with UMass and Colorado. The other side of the bracket features a matchup between Boise State and Charlotte as well as a showdown between Loyola Chicago and Tulsa. At this early point in the season, the Ags are the clear favorite to win this tournament as the next highest rated team in the KenPom rankings is #59 Colorado. A first round win is crucial in a tournament of this tier as it will push A&M into the winners bracket and hopefully setup neutral court matchups against Top 100 competition to boost the team’s NCAA tournament resume.
Murray State comes into the matchup with a 1-1 record. The Racers opened the season with a 91-68 loss to Saint Louis followed by a 90-53 victory of Lindsey Wilson College of the NAIA. Saint Louis actually represents a good analog for the Aggies as they are currently rated just two spots behind A&M at #33 in the KenPom rankings. Junior forward Jamari Smith leads the Racers in scoring but may be unavailable after suffering a shoulder injury against Saint Louis. Juniors Rob Perry and DJ Burns are also averaging double-digits at 16 and 13 points per game, respectively. Murray State has shot the ball well in the early going, hitting 47.1% from the floor and 43.2% from beyond the arc.
This should be a very winnable game for the Aggies if they make shots and assert their dominance and athleticism on the defensive end.
The Ags opened the season with an 87-54 win over the Warhawks. After a back and forth opening 8:00, A&M rode a 13-2 run over the next 3 minutes to open up a 29-14 lead. The remained of the first half passed without significant incident, and the Aggies took a 45-31 advantage into the break.
The second half opened with more of the same as A&M utilized a 14-2 run, extending the lead to 26 points. Despite the fact that the bench played extended minutes in the second half, the lead reached as high as 38 points. Five players scored double figures, led by Wade Taylor. Taylor shot 5-7 from the floor and 4-6 from beyond the arc while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out a couple of assists. Henry Coleman asserted his presence on the interior, scoring 14 points and picking up 7 boards to go with 4 assists. The Aggies shot the ball exceptionally well for a season opener, going 32-63 (50.8%) from the field and 12-26 (46.2%) from three. The 11-18 (61.1%) mark from the free throw line left something to be desired, but that’s nothing new for this program.
A&M continued its dominant run of form against the Abilene Christian Wildcats, picking up a 77-58 victory. ACU is certainly a stiffer early season test. Those who haven’t been following may not realize that the Wildcats have quietly become a solid mid-major program that consistently ranks in the top half of college basketball over the last several seasons. On the surface, a 19 point victory may not look like a significant statement, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the upset-minded Wildcats took the Aggies to double overtime last season.
The Ags opened the game on a 15-3 run with six of those points coming from Henry Coleman. After a blistering start, it looked like A&M would have another dogfight on its hands. ACU battled back to narrow the lead to just 3 points with 2:24 remaining in the opening period. However, the Aggies stabilized in the final minutes of the half and took a 34-29 lead into the break.
Wade Taylor led a 15-6 run in the opening minutes of the second frame, hitting three triples, opening the lead up to 49-35. The Aggies never looked back as they ratcheted up the defensive pressure and went 5-9 from three in the second half. A&M’s lead would get as close as 11 points, but the final result was never in doubt as the Aggies cruised to a 19-point victory. Wade Taylor again led A&M in scoring with 21 points, going 5 for 7 from the floor and hitting a perfect 3 for 3 from deep to go with 8 for 8 from the free throw line. Henry Coleman had a monster game while picking up his first double-double of the season with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals and a block. Boots Radford found his scoring touch by attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Radford would go 9-of-11 from the charity stripe to finish with 13. Dexter Dennis continued to make an impact for his new team, also finishing with 13 points.