Twenty-four hours before Texas A&M knocked off Missouri at home, the complexion of their subsequent matchup with South Carolina changed dramatically. The Gamecocks went into Rupp Arena and knocked off Kentucky, 71-68. While this season’s Wildcats aren’t the title contender that they have been in the last decade, they are still a still a formidable foe, and beating them in their own gym certainly commands respect. It’s safe to assume that the Aggies noticed and planned accordingly ahead of their trip to Columbia. The result was a 94-53 bloodbath victory for A&M, the type of dominant victory that is typically reserved for early season non-conference paycheck games.
To be fair, South Carolina have had their struggles this season as they entered the A&M matchup with an 8-8 record. First year head coach Lamont Paris had managed victories over Clemson, Georgetown, and Western Kentucky but had also dropped games to the likes of Davidson, East Carolina, and George Washington. However, an overtime loss at Vanderbilt paired with the win at Kentucky offered some hope that the Gamecocks might be righting the ship.
The Aggies clearly went to South Carolina determined to assert their dominance, and it happened quickly. After an opening 12-2 run gave A&M an early lead, the Ags followed that up with an 18-2 run to take a 30 - 7 advantage with just under nine minute remaining in the half. A&M outscored the Cocks 20-11 over the remainder of the period, and the first half mercifully came to a close with A&M leading 50-18. I won’t bore you with details of play because it honestly wasn’t that riveting. Much like a Tarantino movie marathon, you were desensitized to the violence pretty quickly. While it wasn’t a perfect half of basketball, there weren’t many things that went wrong, and the Aggies’ superlative effort overcame any momentary lapses. A&M entered the break shooting 51.4% from the field, 46.2% from three, and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
My hope for the second half was to see A&M assert themselves early, not allowing South Carolina to narrow the gap. The Ags followed the script flawlessly, outscoring the home team 22-9 in the opening seven minutes and extending the lead to 45 points. As the deeper parts of A&M’s bench started to enter the game, the rout was officially on, and SEC Network’s announcers quickly lost interest in the proceedings. The highlight of the second half was the reaction of A&M’s bench to sophomore Davin Watkins picking up his first point of the season after a steal and foul drawn on a transition layup sent Watkins to the line. Watkins was lauded by his teammates as well as the Aggie coaching staff as one of the preseason camp standouts, but an injury just before the start of the season left him on the bench in a walking boot for much of the early slate of games.
Four of the five starters finished in double digits, led by Wade Taylor’s 20 points, 5 boards, and 3 assists. Taylor also led an excellent performance for the Ags’ three point shooting, hitting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Henry Coleman and Dexter Dennis dominated the glass, finishing with 11 rebounds and 8 rebounds, respectively, leading A&M to a +32 advantage on the boards. Julius Marble continued his recent stellar run of form at the free throw line, hitting 6-of-7, while the team went 17-for-21.
The win moves Texas A&M to 12-5 on the season and preserves their perfect SEC record at 4-0. The recent run of form has also boosted the Ags’ national rankings. Headed into SEC play, kenpom.com ranked A&M at #75 nationally. Today, the Aggies sit at #47. Fortunately, A&M has moved themselves back into NCAA tournament consideration, but the difficulty of the schedule increases significantly this week starting with a trip to Kentucky to face the Wildcats on Saturday. Nine of the remaining fourteen SEC games on the schedule will be against top-50 opponents. The challenge for A&M will be to avoid the mid-conference swoon that plagued them last year and kept the Ags from their first NCAA appearance since the 2018-2019 season.
Next up for the Aggies is a home showdown against Florida on Wednesday at 6:00 from Reed Arena. The Gators will be looking for vengeance after A&M knocked off UF at home two weeks ago. With classes starting on Tuesday, this is a great opportunity to pack Reed and help the Aggies establish a home court advantage.