Story Poster
Buzz Williams
Wade Taylor IV
Tyrece Radford
Texas A&M Basketball

A&M's formula for success to remain the same vs. No. 6 Tennessee

February 9, 2024

There are no easy basketball victories in the Southeastern Conference, but some wins are more difficult to attain than others.

Texas A&M (14-8, 5-4) faces arguably its most difficult challenge on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against No. 6 Tennessee (17-5, 7-2) at Reed Arena.

The Volunteers average 80 points per game, have won six of their last seven and are fifth in the NET rankings.

If that’s not imposing enough, A&M coach Buzz Williams thinks Tennessee is a bona fide national championship contender with a strong lineup led by guard Dalton Knecht, who averages 20.2 points.

“They’re playing for a No. 1 seed (in the NCAA Tournament),” Williams said. “I personally think — in what I know and what I’ve studied and who I’ve seen — they’re good enough to win a national championship.

“(Knecht) is just so aggressive to score. I think there is a really good vibe in watching them. (Point guard Zakai Zeigler) has scored a bunch of points in this career. (Guard Josiah-Jordan James) is as old as Boots. He played for USA Basketball when he was 15 because I was at Virginia Tech in Charleston trying to recruit him.

“They’re playing for a No. 1 seed (in the NCAA Tournament). I personally think — in what I know and what I’ve studied and who I’ve seen — they’re good enough to win a national championship.”
- A&M head coach Buzz Williams

“It’s not like (Knecht) has to score, so when you give all of your attention to (Knecht), those other guys will beat you.”

Zeigler, who leads the SEC in assists, and 6-foot-11 forward Jonas Aidoo average in double figures, while James averages 9.2. Also, guard Santiago Vescovi is a threat from 3-point range.

But A&M has threats, too.

Junior guard Wade Taylor IV averages 19.7 points. He’s finally getting help, too.

Senior guard Tyrece “Boots” Radford, who was previously slowed by injuries, has scored 51 points in his last two games — victories over Florida and Missouri.

In his A&M career, the Aggies are 11-1 when Radford scores 20 points or more.

The reason for Radford’s scoring outburst could be his health, perhaps matchups or A&M’s strategy to look more often for him.

Williams said it’s a mixture of all of the above as well as a drive to finish his collegiate career in a blaze of glory.

“I think there’s a little bit of ‘he knows he’s officially at the end of his time,’” Williams said. “A lot of times, when kids get to the end, they process it the wrong way. He’s actually processing it in the most mature way you can possibly do it.

“He’s not doing it trying to get drafted. He’s not trying to do it to score 20. He’s doing it because he wants his team to win, and he wants to play in the NCAA Tournament and have success. It’s the most pure ‘how can I help the team?’”

A victory over Tennessee would be an enormous accomplishment that the NCAA Tournament selection committee could not ignore next month.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Taylor scored a game-high 25 points in No. 25 A&M’s 68-63 upset of No. 11 Tennessee at Reed Arena last season.

The Aggies can glean encouragement by having defeated then-No. 6 ranked Kentucky on Jan. 13. They could also glean optimism from a November win over now-No. 14 Iowa State.

They can also look to last season when they upset Tennessee at Reed Arena, 68-63.

In that win, A&M got to the free throw line 34 times and converted 28.

Free throws likely will be a major factor for the Aggies again.

They’ve often struggled at the foul line this year but converted 79 percent (15 of 19) in their 79-60 victory over Missouri on Wednesday.

A&M also will likely need to continue to excel on the offensive boards. The Aggies lead the nation in offensive rebounds.

They must also play strong defense and dictate the tempo.

In short, they must do what they’ve typically done when successful.

“I think the key is to come out wanting it more, playing harder, having more energy,” Radford said. “When we do get to the free throw line, we have to knock those down every chance we get.”

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