Texas A&M puts their four game win streak on the line as they head to Columbia to take on the Missouri Tigers. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2 at 5:00 PM. ESPN2 will feature Southern University vs. Grambling State in the block before, so be prepared to check ESPNEWS if you want to watch from the opening tip.
Missouri has overcome a tough start to SEC play and are currently 19-7 overall with a 7-6 record in the conference. The Tigers have won 5 of their last 7 punctuated by a buzzer beater to take down Tennessee in Knoxville a week ago. More tellingly, Mizzou has only lost two games at home all year (95-67 vs. Kansas and 85-64 vs. Alabama. Defense is going to be key for the Aggies in this one as it was in their first matchup on January 11. The Tigers present an uptempo offense that relies heavily on the three ball. Holding Missouri under 70 will be a key stat, as they have scored no more than 68 points in any of their seven losses.
On the other side, the Aggies have maintained their grasp of second place in the SEC after Tennessee lost both of its matchups last week. The Volunteers then did A&M a favor by knocking off Alabama on Wednesday night, leaving the Ags just one game back of the Tide. Buzz & company will need to win 3 of their last 5 to assure themselves of a second place finish in the conference regular season, but the good news is that they have already clinched a by in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
The old boxing cliché “styles make fights” can often be true in other sports, but especially basketball. Dominant interior play (the swarmer) vs. uptempo, transition running the floor (the counterpuncher). Three point assassins (the slugger) vs. precision passing and backdoor cuts (the boxer). But the last four years of matchups between Texas A&M and Arkansas have represented two bruisers standing in the center of the ring and grinding it out. In many ways, these teams are formed in the same mold - grueling, grinding defense complemented with an inside-out offensive orientation. And while the intricacies of each team’s approach varies, the results are eerily similar. In fact, the two teams had split the season series every year going back to 2017-2018 (except 2020-2021 when they only faced each other once).
So it came as no surprise that the Wednesday night’s showdown at Reed Arena was another slugfest that tested the strength and resolve of each side. At the end of the night, the Aggies stood victorious, 62-56, avenging their defeat to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville just two weeks before.
The first half wasn’t pretty for A&M, shooting 29.6% from the floor while getting out-rebounded 20-14. It was obvious that Arkansas’ length and athleticism posed a problem for the Ags, just as it had in their prior meeting. A&M spent virtually the entire first half chasing the Hogs, who only trailed for 57 seconds in the period. After the Aggies pulled within 2 points with just over four minutes until halftime, Arkansas went on a 12-2 run to open a 12 point lead with twenty-six seconds remaining. The Aggies had a last chance to narrow the gap with a side-out-of-bounds play with 1.4 seconds remaining, and Hayden Hefner made the most of his opportunity. Hefner ran off of a downscreen by Julius Marble to the top of the key and drilled a dagger as the buzzer sounded, pulling A&M within single digits at 33-24 and giving the home crowd a spark headed into the break.
It wasn’t just the crowd who seized the momentum from Hefner’s buzzer beater. Wade Taylor came out for the second half like a man possessed, scoring 11 points in the Aggies’ first five possessions of the second half including two three-pointers. This spurred a 14-4 run that gave A&M a 1-point lead just 3:45 into the period. The Razorbacks went cold from deep, and the Aggies were ferocious on the boards. A&M improved their offensive spacing to create penetration lanes, drawing fouls on the way to the rim. The Ags’ impressive 18-of-22 performance from the free throw line was certainly a catalyst that pushed them into the lead and a crucial component to maintaining the lead down the stretch. A&M took the lead for good at 55-53 with 3:14 remaining on a Dexter Dennis putback. Similar to the Auburn game, you could palpably sense that A&M had imposed their will and broken the Hogs’ spirit. Even if the visitors managed to sink a desperation three, there was total confidence that the Ags would find a way to finish the job. As expected, the Aggies were clutch from the line in the final minutes to seal the 62-56 victory.