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Billy Kennedy
The Aggie seniors
Texas A&M Basketball

Texas A&M secures SEC title with 76-67 victory against Vanderbilt

March 5, 2016

A tense crowd of 12,007 Reed Arena likely was getting a bad feeling as Vanderbilt mounted a late comeback against Texas A&M.

But Alex Caruso had a feeling, too.

“It was weird,” Caruso said. “I was thinking, 'Somehow I feel like I’m going to get a run-through and a dunk.' It’s just like it was supposed to happen.”

It did.

Caruso parlayed a key steal into a dunk to thwart Vanderbilt's rally and the Aggies went on to take a 76-67 basketball victory and clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

It’s A&M’s first basketball championship since winning a share of the Southwest Conference title in 1986.

The Aggies will share the SEC crown with Kentucky, but A&M will have the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament by virtue of a 79-77 victory over the Wildcats.

“I’m proud of our guys. We did it the way I want to do it – with toughness and defense,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I thought we were pretty good against a really good Vanderbilt team.”

TexAgs The Aggies dominated Vanderbilt for large stretches and won the battle in the post, even holding on late to win securely.
On Senior Day, the No. 20 Aggies (24-7, 13-5 SEC) were led by senior Jalen Jones, who posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow seniors Danuel House notched 11 points, Anthony Collins had eight and Caruso dished out eight assists to go along with his clutch steal.

Freshman center Tyler Davis also had 16 points, blocked three shots and outplayed Vanderbilt’s 7-0 center Damion Jones, who played just 19 minutes before fouling out.

Jones and guard Wade Baldwin IV each scored 11 points to lead Vanderbilt (19-12, 11-7), which also got 10 from guard Matthew Fisher-Davis.

The Aggies led by as many as 20 points in the second half after Davis hit a free throw for a 67-47 margin with 8:21 remaining.

However, the Commodores, who hit 13 shots from three-point range in a 77-60 win over A&M last month in Nashville, got three-pointers from Riley LaChance and Camron Justice in a 12-2 run that cut the Aggies’ margin to 69-59 with three-and-a-half minutes left.

After a miss by House, Vanderbilt had an opportunity to lower A&M’s lead to single digits.

That’s when Caruso stole Josh Henderson’s pass and raced down court for the dunk.

“That was huge,” Kennedy said. “That’s what he’s done throughout his career. In special moments at the right time and place he goes and makes a play to solidify the game.

“I wasn’t over there resting easy. Vanderbilt is a dangerous team. When you can shoot the ball like they do they’re always a threat.”

The Commodores weren’t nearly as threatening as they were in Nashville.

In that game the Commodores shot 50.8 percent from the field, hit 13 threes, outscored the Aggies in the paint and held a 38-31 rebounding advantage.

This time A&M held Vandy to 43.4 percent shooting (23 of 53), allowed three fewer three-point field goals, outscored the Commodores 40-22 in the paint and held a 36-33 advantage in rebounds, which included 17 offensive boards.

One of the big factors was that Damion Jones was mired in foul trouble. He picked up his first foul in the first minute of the game, had three at halftime and got his fourth early in the second half. He fouled out with 9:54 remaining.

“We took the ball right at him,” Kennedy said. “Tyler was aggressive. It didn’t hurt that the first foul he knocked Anthony Collins on the ground. That was our game plan — to switch ball screens and see if they were going to attack us inside. The first foul set the tone for the game.”

Matt Sachs, TexAgs Billy Kennedy's A&M team enters the postseason with momentum on its side after rebounding emphatically from the mid-year swoon. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Billy Kennedy\u0027s A\u0026M team enters the postseason with momentum on its side after rebounding emphatically from the mid-year swoon.","MediaItemID":67632}
Jalen Jones said the Aggies were just more focused than in the previous game.

“We were just a lot more locked in,” Jones said. “We were top-10 in the country and feeling ourselves a little bit, so we had to get humbled. We got super humbled, five straight losses.

“We wanted revenge. We came out from the jump, but they kept battling.”

Vanderbilt was almost always battling from behind.

In the first half Davis scored a layup off an assist from Caruso to start a 9-0 run. Collins followed with a three-pointer from the top of the key.

Davis hit a pair of free throws and Tonny Trocha-Morelos worked past Damion Jones for a baseline layup to build 23-14 lead with 7:17 remaining.

Vanderbilt answered with a barrage of three-pointers and regained a 30-29 lead when Damion Jones completed a three-point play with 3:47 left in the half.

However, Davis completed a three-point play and Jalen Jones brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk off an offensive rebound to highlight a late charge that allowed the Aggies to take a 39-32 halftime lead.

A&M started the second half with a 10-2 run and appeared in complete control when House scored a layup for a 69-50 lead with 7:33 to play.

Vanderbilt answered with a 9-0 run, which caused that uneasy feeling among the crowd.

But Caruso made his steal and dunk, and just like that, Aggies were feeling like champions for the first time in 30 years.
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Texas A&M secures SEC title with 76-67 victory against Vanderbilt

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