After twenty minutes of basketball on Wednesday night, Texas A&M was in complete control over the #20 Missouri Tigers. The Aggies were aggressive on both ends of the floor, they had no problems breaking the Tigers’ pressure, and the shots were falling. The ranked opponent struggled to find an open look and missed most of the clean attempts they did get. All that stood between the Aggies and a 3-0 start to conference play was a solid 10 minute stretch to open the second half.
And then the Ags’ execution seemingly ground to a halt.
The result was a wild night of oscillating emotions for Aggie basketball as they pulled off an 82-64 victory over Mizzou. Entering the game, it felt like the Ags were going to have their hands full with a potent offensive team that averaged 87 points per game and ranked fourth nationally in offensive efficiency. After a back and forth ten minute stretch to open the game, A&M asserted its dominance, and the home crowd grew euphoric. As the teams headed to the locker room at the break with the Aggies ahead 43-25, there was a building confidence that this team had finally regained its spark, that it might actually be poised to overcome the non-conference struggles and realize its potential. As the Aggies’ 21 point lead evaporated in the ten minutes out of the break thanks to a 21-7 Tiger run, fans were overcome with frustration and bewilderment.
The Aggies were suddenly confounded by the same full-court pressure that Mizzou had been running in the opening half. When the Aggies managed to get the ball across half court, they seemed content to just stand on the perimeter, pounding the ball through the floor while time ticked off the shot clock. A&M was careless with the ball, turning it over 11 times in under nine minutes. On the defensive side, the Ags lacked conviction in their rotations, committing ridiculous fouls and leaving the Tigers with wide open looks.
With 10:20 remaining in the game, a Missouri transition three closed the Aggie advantage to just 4 points, and the home team appeared to be adrift in a storm of the visitors’ making. But just as soon as seas began to roar, the Aggies emerged to regain command of the situation. A Dexter Dennis block and a couple of tenacious offensive possessions by Julius Marble swung the momentum back in Texas A&M’s favor. From there, Wade Taylor commandeered the Aggie assault, leading his team on a 20-5 run to give the Aggies a 19 point lead with three minutes remaining, making the final results a forgone conclusion.
The first ten minutes of the second half were among the most exasperating stretches of Aggie basketball that I have watched in the past ten years. It’s not a exaggeration to say that this could and, to some degree, should have been a 25 to 30 point victory for A&M. The completely impressive capabilities of this team were on prime display until their own lack of focus and urgency nearly derailed them from demolishing a top 25 opponent. And yet, somehow we’re left with a sense of awe and admiration at the fact that this group buried Mizzou once, resurrected them, and then proceeded to bury them again.
Six Aggies scored in double figures. Boots Radford led the way for A&M with 16 points, 6 boards, 6 assists and two steals. Hayden Hefner was a massive catalyst for the Aggies’ first half explosion, picking up 12 points on 3-for-3 from behind the arc to go with a perfect 3-for-3 from the free throw line. Wade Taylor’s second half outburst left him with 14 points and 4 assists. Dexter Dennis and Henry Coleman each picked up a double-double; Dennis scored 13 and pulled down 12 rebounds while Coleman chipped in 10 points and 10 boards. Julius Marble added 11 points, including an impressive 5-for-6 night at the line. The Ags dominated the boards, 42-25, and outshot the Tigers. 53.3% to 35.6%. A&M hit 10 triples on the night, marking the first game since the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe that the Ags had made double-digit threes. The Aggies also continued their free throw barrage, getting to the line for 32 attempts and making 24.
The win moved A&M to 11-5 on the season and 3-0 in SEC play.
Following up on the utilization from last weekend’s win over LSU, only ten Ags saw action in this contest. Of those ten, only seven played double-digit minutes. So it appears that Buzz is both favoring a shorter bench and distributing the bulk of the playing across a smaller core group as of late. This may change as SEC play progresses, but it seems to have allowed the core group to develop more of a rhythm as they don’t cycle in and out of the game as frequently.
Buzz and team will head to South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks at 5:00 PM on Saturday. South Carolina has been on a roller coaster under first-year head coach Lamont Paris. The Gamecocks have collected wins over Clemson, Georgetown, and Western Kentucky, but they have dropped games to Colorado State, UAB, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee. But don’t take this team lightly, as they knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Wednesday night, 71-68. They also play well at home, boasting a 6-1 record at Colonial Life Arena this season.