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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggies drop nail-biter against SEC foe Missouri

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Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

Sophomore Hayden Hefner shoots a layup. 

The Missouri Tigers led for nearly 75% of game time. However, with 35 seconds remaining in the second half, the team held on by just a 68-66 advantage. Out of timeouts, Texas A&M graduate student guard Quenton Jackson clawed in a loose ball and clinched a crucial possession for the Aggies.
Reed Arena erupted. The nightmarish five-game losing streak that has haunted the team following its 6-point loss to No. 12 Kentucky seemed to be inching toward its demise. An A&M team with long-shot March Madness aspirations was getting its swagger back at the perfect time.
Jackson’s fastbreak was quickly stifled by a foul from Missouri sophomore forward Ronnie DeGray, forcing a one-and-one trip to the free-throw line. The thunderous applause that rattled the arena dropped to a breathless standstill.
With the student section in a chokehold, Jackson flicked the ball toward the basket. It sailed just wide of the hoop and clanked against the back of the rim, floating unopposed into the grasp of Missouri junior forward Kobe Brown. With the vengeful energy all but vacuumed out of the stands, Brown cashed in on his two attempts at the line, sealing the 70-66 victory for the Tigers.
As the reality of the final score set in for both of the fanbases, it was evident there was no love lost between the schools. Spectators behind Missouri’s bench waved goodbye to A&M’s slowly departing student section, audibly saying, “See ya, guys.”
Despite the team ranking 13th in free throw percentage in the SEC at 65.6%, the Aggies had reason to believe in Jackson. Not only has he led the Aggies in points this season with 13 per game, but he sits at fifth among players in the conference with an 84.8% success rate from the charity stripe.
Following the contest, A&M coach Buzz Williams doubled down on his decision to put the ball in Jackson’s hands in that critical spot, saying the team recognizes him as an elite shooter.
“If we are playing a free-throw game, and everyone gets to choose, [Jackson] is always the first pick,” Williams said. “I don’t ever choose, but if I did, I would choose him. If we were to play a doubleheader, I am doing the exact same thing.”
Outside the game’s dramatic final seconds, the biggest story of the afternoon was the standout performance from A&M sophomore guard Hayden Hefner.
After averaging just 3.5 minutes of playing time throughout the Aggies’ first 22 games of the season, the Nederland native was given 17 minutes against the Tigers — and he made them count. Hefner finished with 17 points, shooting an impressive 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. His night was emphasized by a fastbreak dunk and a corner 3-pointer that made the score competitive in the game’s late stages.
Following the loss, Hefner said he has been waiting for the platform to have this type of performance.
“I have always had this in me, I’ve just been waiting for my opportunity,” Hefner said. “I have had a couple of good practices this past week, so I knew I was going to get more minutes than usual. Warmups were good; shooting around was good. I just felt comfortable.”
Hefner and Jackson tied for the team-lead in points with 17. Jackson also led the Aggies in rebounds with six, and sophomore guard Marcus Williams led the way in assists with three.
After starting the season 15-2 and undefeated in SEC play, the Aggies have now dropped six straight conference games, four of which have come by two possessions or fewer.
Coach Williams said it can be difficult to keep a team focused during such a drought, but he is proud of his team’s ability to be competitive against talented teams.
“Three straight weeks of losing is hard,” Buzz Williams said. “I told them in the locker room that I think we are doing the right things, we just have to be better. I don’t know what to do other than keep going and find a way to get better and improve. Being in all of these games speaks to where we’re at. We’re on the right track and just not doing it well enough.”
With the loss, A&M falls to 15-8 overall and 4-6 in SEC play while Missouri improves to 9-13 and 3-6 in the SEC.
Next up, the Aggies will host No. 25 LSU on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Tipoff at Reed Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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