Coach Buzz Williams’ Texas A&M Aggies have shown they can beat the Southeastern Conference’s best this season.
Now it’s time for them to take the first step toward winning the conference’s showcase event.
In a Friday night quarterfinal at the SEC tournament in Nashville, the No. 18 Aggies will make that initial move when they face Arkansas, a 76-73 winner over Auburn on Thursday.
During a highly anticipated regular-season finale last Saturday, Texas A&M (23-8) used a career-best outing from point guard Wade Taylor IV to top regular-season SEC champion Alabama 67-61 in College Station, Texas.
That victory by the Aggies — now seeded second — was a statement game in their only meeting with the Crimson Tide.
In leading the Aggies to an eighth win in nine games, Taylor put up a career-high 28 points by shooting 8 of 15 from the floor and 10 of 10 from the foul line.
“We stayed together throughout this whole process and … we’re not done,” said Taylor, a sophomore from Dallas. “Just to finish up conference with the most wins in conference in school history is the end of chapter of that book we just wrote. So now it’s time to start volume two.”
Most impressive was the winners’ foul shooting: Texas A&M was successful on 27 of 28 free throws (96.4 percent).
The Aggies improved to 22-0 when holding a foe below 66 points.
On Monday, when the season-ending awards were handed out, Williams shared SEC Coach of the Year honors with Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse in voting by the league’s coaches.
Williams believes there is good and bad in his team getting a double bye in the SEC tournament and resting for five days.
“I do think there is an advantage in playing (in a previous game),” he said. “You have already been on the floor. You’ve already had a rep of doing it.
“But I also think there is an advantage of not playing in that you should be a little fresher. But it is probably going to take you a little bit more time to get the tires going.”
In its meeting with Auburn on the tourney’s second day, Arkansas (20-12) got the win it desperately needed — one that broke a three-game losing streak and might get the Razorbacks into the NCAA Tournament.
However, Arkansas blew a 15-point, second-half lead and fell behind by one with 41 seconds to go. The Razorbacks then turned to prized freshman Nick Smith Jr., who canned a go-ahead baseline jumper with 16 seconds left for the win.
“We were just trying to get a bucket in,” said Smith, who scored 14 points. “My team believed in me to shoot the pull-up jump shot, and I made it.”
Ricky Council IV said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman called out the team for quitting after losing leads and questioned its heart. However, the Razorbacks took the criticism to heart at the end.
“That’s been our problem all year,” Council said of the wasted lead. “We get down, and coach said we don’t fight back. He called us soft. This was a real big game for us. … I’m just glad we moved on to the next round.”
In a stellar performance, Razorbacks freshman Anthony Black had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.
–Field Level Media