The Aggie men’s basketball team traveled to Fort Worth on Saturday looking to continue their post-Thanksgiving run of form and exorcise their demons of Dickies Arena. Instead of a resume-boosting neutral-site win, the Aggies left Cowtown with an 86-71 loss to the Boise State Broncos. A tough night on both ends of the floor doomed A&M, leaving Buzz Williams and the coaching staff once again looking for a catalyst who can get the Ags back into rhythm.
Coming into this game, the biggest question would be how the Aggies would handle the challenges presented by the defending Mountain West champs. Boise State runs a 5-out offense that relies on flashes and cuts to create mismatches. They also have good size that allows them to control the paint defensively. Despite taking the ball away 8 times and creating 15 turnovers, A&M looked a step slow defensively all night, giving the Broncos plenty of open shots from three. Boise was more than obliged to make them pay, hitting 11 of 25 attempts (44%) from beyond the arc.
The Broncos opened with a hot start with back-to-back threes on their opening possessions, a harbinger of things to come. A&M managed to stop the bleeding with defensive pressure to force turnovers and narrowed the gap to 3 with just over nine minutes remaining in the half. Boise State countered with a 10-2 run, opening a 31-20 lead. The Aggies started attacking the paint late in the first half. While the Broncos size posed a challenge to A&M’s ability to make shots in the interior, the Aggies drew fouls and hit free throws, closing the gap to as few as 6. Boise State led at halftime, 37-28. Despite a dismal 32% field goal percentage and hitting 1 of 9 attempts from deep, there was still a glimmer of hope.
A sloppy opening to the second half saw the teams combine for 6 fouls in the first four minutes. It would only get worse from there. A&M would shoot the ball marginally better in the second half, but they found themselves scrambling on defense, committing fouls and sending Boise State to the line. It was a long second half as both teams were in the bonus with eleven minutes remaining.
There were two key moments where the Aggies looked like they might will themselves back into the game, both on Wade Taylor triples. The first came with just over eleven minutes remaining when Taylor hit a transition three and drew the foul, cutting Boise’s lead to 8. However, Taylor missed the free throw and the Aggies’ momentum faded. With six minutes left, Taylor again hit from beyond the arc, and the sparse but Aggie partisan crowd sensed that A&M might be making a run. The A&M resurgence wasn’t to be as the Ags came up empty on their following possession where Taylor and Boots Radford both missed contested threes, and the Broncos countered with a dagger from deep on an offensive rebound.
The one real upside to the second half was the offensive emergence of Solomon Washington. Washington had logged a season high 12 points against Colorado, but 7 of those came in the second half of a blowout loss and only 5 points came from field goal attempts. Against Boise, “Solo” showed up big in the second half. He made two really tough shots in the paint on back-to-back possessions and followed that up a soaring transition dunk to cut the Broncos lead to 6. There was also a moment where Washington isolated in the corner, broke the defender’s ankles on an incredible crossover, and hit Henry Coleman with a nice drop-off pass for a dunk. Solomon finished the game with 10 points on 5-7 shooting. While he has shown to be a really solid defender, I would like to see more of Washington showcase more of his athleticism as a shot blocker. In his high school and AAU career, Solomon was a dynamic shot eraser who can jump out of the gym. There was a flash of this late in the second half when Washington put the ball on top of the shooter’s head on a block attempt that was called a foul. Hopefully this doesn’t deter him from chasing shots in the future.
Wade Taylor led A&M in scoring with 16 points, but this game on 4-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from deep. He also had 6 assists on the night. Coleman added 12 points and 5 boards, while Tyrece Radford and Dexter Dennis finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. On a night where the Aggies shot 41.4% from the floor and 23.8% from beyond the arc, they seemed to struggle with finding a scoring spark outside of the main contributors (Taylor, Radford, Coleman). Then, when the spark did show up (Dennis, Washington), the Ags failed to make the adjustments to get the ball in those players’ hands and create more open looks for them. For A&M to be successful, they are going to have to find ways to create offense when they aren’t shooting the ball well from distance (less than 44% FG and less than 30% 3PT). This is especially true when the Aggies are struggling on the defensive end and are unable to limit their opponent’s open looks.