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Texas A&M Basketball

Slow start plagues Aggies in SEC Tournament final against Tennessee

March 13, 2022
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TAMPA — The more empathetic among the Amalie Arena crowd might suggest fatigue was a problem for Texas A&M on Sunday.

The theory would be sound. Four games in four days against high-level opponents is a grueling grind.

More realistically, though, the Aggies (23-12) just grew weary of Tennessee’s long shots and long arms in a 65-50 loss in the Southeastern Conference postseason basketball tournament.

The No. 9 Volunteers (26-7) hit a dozen 3-pointers and seemingly altered at least that many shots to stop the Aggies’ impressive and improbable seven-game winning streak.

For their part, the Aggies didn’t use fatigue as an excuse for losing.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Quenton Jackson, who earned second-team All-SEC honors, scored just nine points in the SEC title game.

“I wouldn’t say it was hard (playing four games in four games),” freshman guard Wade Taylor IV said. “We’ve prepared for that going back to when we first started in August going through boot camp. Playing those four games was just another game. I thought we prepared pretty well.”

Will the Aggies be prepared, though, if they get bad news from the NCAA selection committee?

The lopsided loss may leave the Aggies feeling nervous for Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament selection show.

SEC Tournament victories over Florida, No. 4 Auburn and No. 15 Arkansas should guarantee A&M a place in the 68-team field.

“Is it good enough?” A&M coach Buzz Williams wondered. “Should it happen? I do think this (the SEC) numerically is the best league… maybe it’s 1B.

“I know what the numbers are. I do think how the last three-and-a-half weeks have transpired for us, I would think, for sure, has to help our resume. Is it good enough? I don’t know.”

But Aggies learned the hard way from the 2020 College Football Playoffs that committees can be swayed by blue bloods and big names.

The Aggies might be on pins and needles waiting to find out if their big wins mean more than the big names of teams like Michigan and Indiana.

“Playing in the greatest tournament in the country is something every kid dreams of when you’re shooting in the driveway and stuff,” Henry Coleman III said. “It would be a blessing for us to be in that tournament, but I think even if we’re not, we’re going to handle it the right way.”

“Playing in the greatest tournament in the country is something every kid dreams of when you’re shooting in the driveway and stuff. It would be a blessing for us to be in that tournament, but I think even if we’re not, we’re going to handle it the right way.”
- A&M forward Henry Coleman III

Had the Aggies played in similar fashion to their first three games in Tampa, there would be no reason for doubt.

A&M shot 52 percent (25-of-48) from 3-point range in their previous tournament games. The Aggies also found ways to offset the superior height and size that Florida, Auburn and Arkansas had in the paint.

They couldn’t solve the Tennessee puzzle, however. A&M missed its first nine attempts from 3-point range and ultimately converted just 21.1 percent (4-of-19).

Complicating matters, the Aggies struggled to score inside against Tennessee’s 7-foot Uros Plavis, 6-foot-10 Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, 6-foot-9 John Fulkerson and 6-foot-6 Josiah-Jordan James.

Although the 6-foot-8 Coleman fought valiantly for 12 points in the paint, the Aggies converted just nine of 24 layup attempts.

The Aggies previously had compensated for their lack of size with speed, athleticism and dogged determination to force turnovers and run down loose balls.

But against Tennessee, they frequently appeared a step slower and less explosive. Maybe it was fatigue. Or maybe Tennessee is just that good.

“They beat us from start to finish,” Williams said. “We had no answers for their tactical decisions and their talent.”

The Volunteers were in control from the outset. They hit a trio of treys and a three-point play to roar out to a quick 14-0 lead.

Meanwhile, the Aggies missed their first eight shots — seven from 3-point range.

Finally, Coleman made a layup as A&M tried to claw back into contention.

The Aggies managed an 8-0 run to pull within 16-10 midway through the half. But their perimeter inaccuracy and the Volunteers’ frequent second chances on the offensive end prevented the Aggies from drawing closer.

“I do think how the last three-and-a-half weeks have transpired for us, I would think, for sure, has to help our resume. Is it good enough? I don’t know.”
- A&M head coach Buzz Williams

A&M shot just 27.3 percent in the first half. Tennessee wasn’t significantly better — shooting 35.5 percent. But the Vols hit five 3-pointers and got eight offensive rebounds en route to taking a 29-20 lead at the break.

A&M came out strong to start the second half. Tyrece Radford, who led A&M with 13 points, hit the first 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to 34-29.

However, Tennessee responded with a trio of 3-pointers and a conventional three-point play to push its lead to 46-31. The margin never again dropped under double figures.

The Aggies will aim to launch another, even more meaningful winning streak… hopefully in the NCAA Tournament.

A&M’s streak of victories raised eyebrows. It also raised questions of what the Aggies could do in March Madness.

“I think we’ll take it one game at a time just like we have done all season,” Coleman said. “We’re not looking ahead. We’re focused on what’s right now, what’s right in front of us.

“We’ll focus on that first game. We’ll focus a lot on us, too. I think we’re a good team.”

That’s been proven. Especially when they’re well-rested.

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Slow start plagues Aggies in SEC Tournament final against Tennessee

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