It seemed beyond far-fetched at the beginning of conference play that the Aggies would be in contention for an SEC title headed into the last four games of the regular season. And yet, here they are, sporting a 12-2 conference mark, one game behind #2 Alabama in the standings, a 20-7 overall record, a #25 national ranking in both polls, and a #28 NET ranking. Now Buzz Williams and his Fighting Texas Aggies Basketball Team will make a push to history as they face two top 12 teams in the span of twelve days to win a conference crown.
The stretch run starts Tuesday nigh as the Ags host #11 Tennessee at 6:00 PM from Reed Arena in a showdown between two of the best defensive teams in the conference. The Volunteers are rated #1 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, but they have been reeling a bit of late as their offense has struggled to score. After starting 7-1 in SEC play, UT has dropped 4 of their last 6 games, including back-to-back buzzer beater losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri two weeks ago. However, one of those recent wins was a dominating 68-59 home victory over then-#1 Alabama, a high-flying offensive juggernaut that just hung 108 points on Georgia. And it should go without saying that Tennessee is led by head coach Rick Barnes, a legendary antagonist for Aggie basketball who always has his teams ready to play against A&M.
But the good news is that the Aggies, who are the masters of their destiny in the conference title race, will face the Vols at home where they have had success against Rick Barnes teams.
This will be one of the hottest tickets for A&M basketball this season. The Reed Rowdies and Texas A&M Athletics are making this a Black Out game so make sure you wear black. Make plans to get to Reed early as the heavy traffic will be complicated by a 6:00 PM tip off. For those who are out of town, the game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup between Texas A&M and Missouri, Vegas listed the Tigers as a 3-point favorite. Perhaps it’s not unexpected that a home team would get the betting edge, but the Aggies’ ability to slow down uptempo teams like the Tigers certainly seemed like it would give the visitors an edge. Just as they did a month ago, A&M’s defense gave the normally hot shooting Mizzou team fits in their own arena, and the Ags left Columbia with a 69-60 victory.
A&M looked comfortable in the opening minutes, picking up an early lead and slowing Missouri’s pace. Then the Aggie turnovers started. The Ags turned the ball over 7 (SEVEN!) times in a four minute stretch. While the Tigers were credited with eight steals in the first half, many of A&M’s 13 giveaways in the period were unforced errors. Luckily, the Aggies regained their composure and stayed patient on the offensive end while slowing down Mizzou and forcing them into poor shots. The A&M D forced 3 shot clock violations by the Tigers in the opening frame. Offensively, Dexter Dennis and Wade Taylor stole the show in the first, each with 14 points. Taylor did much of his damage from behind the arc, while Dennis was lethal both inside and out. The Aggies went a on 19-6 run over the final six minutes of the half to open up a 14 point lead at the break, 39-25.
When you put a team down by 14 in their own gym at halftime, your goal is to break their will early in the second. You simultaneously expect the counter punch, especially if the team good enough to be in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies tried to put the game away early in the second half, getting the lead to as many as 18 with 13:30 remaining. But the Tiger surge came just two minutes later when the home team went on a 8-0 run to close the gap to 56-48 with nine minutes to go. Buzz deftly called a timeout and settled his troops, and the Aggies responded accordingly. A&M scored on two of their next three possessions to stop the bleeding and then began to attack the Tiger defense and finding their way to the free throw line. All 6 of A&M’s points in the final five minutes came from free throws, and Missouri went cold from deep as well as the free throw line.
Wade Taylor led A&M in scoring with 21 points and also added 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Dexter Dennis finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points and pulling down 10 boards. As noted by Texas A&M’s Brad Marquardt, Dennis surpassed the 700 rebound mark for his collegiate career in this contest. Boots Radford finished the game with 12 points and 4 boards, just 2 rebounds shy of passing the 700 career rebound plateau himself.
The Aggies dominated the shooting and rebounding categories in this one. A&M shot 44% (22-for-50) from the floor, 38% (8-for-21) from three, and 89.5% (17-for19) from the line. On the other side, the Tigers shot 39% from the floor, 35% from deep, and 69% from the stripe. As expected, the Aggies crushed Mizzou on the boards, 41-23. If it wasn’t for the 21 Aggie giveaways compared to Missouri’s 12, this game might have been a blowout.