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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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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A&M advances to second consecutive SEC Tournament championship

Freshman+F+Solomon+Washington+%2813%29+dunks+the+ball+during+a+game+vs.+Vanderbilt+on+Saturday%2C+March+11%2C+2023+in+Bridgestone+Arena%2C+Nashville%2C+Tennessee.
Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

Freshman F Solomon Washington (13) dunks the ball during a game vs. Vanderbilt on Saturday, March 11, 2023 in Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee.

Texas A&M men’s basketball entered its semifinal matchup against Vanderbilt on Saturday, March 13, one win away from advancing to its second consecutive SEC Tournament championship game. Awaiting the winner was No. 1-seed Alabama.
Saturday’s game would be no easy task for the Aggies. Much like A&M’s team from last season, Vanderbilt is playing its best basketball in the months of February and March. Dating back to the start of February, the Commodores had won 10 of its last 11 games. The run earned Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse co-SEC Coach of the Year honors along with coach Buzz Williams.
Vanderbilt finds itself right on the edge of making the NCAA Tournament. A win against the Aggies just might be enough to put them into the field.
To start the game, both teams started out slowly on offense. Both teams committed early turnovers. The first points in the matchup came off a jump-hook from junior forward Julius Marble.
“I probably learned that shot when I was in the third grade,” Marble said. “That was the first shot I learned how to do because I was the biggest guy on the court.”
On the very next possession, Marble scored yet another hook shot. A&M started off the game with seven straight stops on defense.
A 3-pointer from senior guard Tyrece Radford increased A&M’s lead to 7-0. Vanderbilt freshman forward Colin Smith quickly responded with a 3-pointer of his own to make the score 7-3.
Going into the under-16 minute timeout, the Aggies led 9-3 over the Commodores. After a slow start on offense, the maroon and white were now getting whatever they wanted on that end of the floor.
It looked like a focus for the Aggies was to get Marble the ball in the post and have him either score or pass out to an open shooter. Thus far, A&M was getting good looks when running this action. A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV increased the Aggies lead to 12-3 six minutes into the game.
Marble said making shots earlier on in the game gave him the confidence to keep attacking his man in the post.
“I think I opened [space] up for everybody because I got the first couple of baskets,” Marble said. “[I] started feeling it, so I took a little more shots than I probably would have [otherwise] in the first half.”
The Commodores were getting good looks from the perimeter, but were only able to convert one of five attempts early on.
A Radford alley-oop layup gave A&M its first double-digit lead of the game at 16-5. The Commodores continued to struggle on offense, committing multiple shot clock violations. Going into the under-12 minute timeout, the maroon and white led 19-5. Vanderbilt was in danger of letting the game get out of hand.
Eight minutes in, the Commodores had committed seven turnovers and were shooting 20% from both the field and 3-point line. The Aggies offense was humming, shooting over 60% from the field.
Williams attributed A&M’s defensive success against Vanderbilt to the preparation from his staff.
“I thought our staff did a really good job [getting ready for Vanderbilt] in a short turnaround,” Williams said. “We hadn’t played these guys in seven weeks. I would say they run the most complex offense in the league. I think their team has completely evolved into something that it wasn’t with the injury to their post player. They’re [alway] playing with [at least] four shooters. In the last five games, 44% of their shots have been from three.”
A poster dunk from junior forward Henry Coleman upped A&M’s lead to 24-7. It seemed like the Aggies were scoring 5 points for every basket made by the Commodores.
Vanderbilt started to find its footing on offense, and finally crossed the 10-point threshold just over 10 minutes into the game. The issue was, the Commodores were hemorrhaging points on defense.
A&M’s lead was at 30-14 heading into the under-eight minute timeout. The maroon and white’s leading scorer was Radford with 8 points. The only A&M player to not have yet scored was junior forward Hayden Hefner and freshman forward Solomon Washington.
A 4-0 spurt from Marble gave the Aggies their first double digit lead of the game at 34-14. There were just under six minutes left in the first half. Marble continued his personal run with another made jump shot.
16 minutes into the game, the maroon and white were shooting 75% from the field and 62.5% from the 3-point line. A&M was putting together on one of its best offensive halves of its season against Vanderbilt.
A second consecutive 3-pointer from Taylor swelled A&M’s to 42-16 with under three minutes remaining in the first half.
A windmill dunk from Washington with one minute remaining increased A&M’s lead to 47-21. Washington’s dunk was the perfect exclamation point to a stellar first half from the Aggies.
Marble said while Washington usually gets in trouble for leaking out and attempting highlight dunks, it worked out against the Commodores and made for a great highlight.
“Usually he gets in trouble for those,” Marble said. “Coach [Williams] always has to say something about it in film the next day, but he got a good one today.”
Heading into halftime, the maroon and white led 49-25 over the Commodores. Vanderbilt gradually improved offensively as the half wore on, but the story of the first half was how efficient A&M was on offense. The Aggies made 20 of their 29 shots, including seven 3-pointers. A big concern for Vanderbilt was the 12 turnovers it committed in the first half.
The point leader for the maroon and white was Radford with 11, but their best player was Marble. Marble seemed to have success in the post every time his teammates threw him the ball in the first half.
A&M started the second half taking its time and trying to avoid unforced errors. With such a large lead, the Aggies had the luxury of slowing the game down and playing this way. In an effort to force turnovers, Vanderbilt started to blitz pick and rolls. It worked as A&M committed a shot clock violation.
The Commodores started to chip away at the Aggies lead, getting to within 19 points. A&M needed to right the ship as the Vanderbilt faithful were starting to get loud and back into the game.
A 3-pointer from Smith continued the Commodores run and dwindled the maroon and white’s lead to 53-37. A&M’s offense was struggling. A pair of free throws from senior guard Ezra Manjon got the Commodores to within 15 points.
Vanderbilt continued to look like a completely different team in the second half. The Commodores’ offenses seemed to be fueled by the crowd. The semifinal matchup had turned into a Vanderbilt home game. The Aggies were entering the danger zone.
As their lead dropped to 12 points, the Aggies were in danger of allowing a historic comeback. A&M was desperately in need of a spark on offense.
Taylor responded, scoring a running floater and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to A&M’s lead back to 15 points heading into the under-12 timeout. Taylor was up to 17 points and 3 assists in the game.
With the team struggling, Taylor’s focus was on righting the ship for his team on both ends of the floor.
“We weren’t getting any stops on defense,” Taylor said. “They start hitting shots, a lot of threes. I was just trying to control the game a little bit. That [meant] scoring and trying to get stops [on defense].”
With the way the Commodores were scoring, A&M would need to continue to execute on offense if it wanted to advance to the SEC championship game against Alabama. Luckily for the Aggies, they were already in the bonus with just over 11 minutes left in the game. A&M was hoping to continue to get to the free throw line to try to build back up its lead.
Taylor continued to make tough basket after tough basket as A&M’s lead returned to 18 points. The Aggies were returning to their offensive form from the first half. A 3-pointer from Hefner got A&M’s to 74-53.
Every A&M player who played in the game had now scored.
With just over four minutes left, A&M’s lead over Vanderbilt was 17 points, 80-63. The Commodores were continuing to score on offense, but the Aggies were doing just enough to maintain a comfortable lead.
Vanderbilt seemed to have one more run in them, as a layup off a fast break from senior guard/forward Jordan Wright made the score 80-67 with just over three minutes left. A goaltending violation from Washington got the Commodores to within 11 points of the Aggies with two minutes left. Vanderbilt was in need of a miracle to upset A&M.
In the end, the Aggies held off the Commodores to win 87-75 and advance to the SEC Tournament championship game against Alabama. This marks the second consecutive year A&M will compete for the SEC Tournament championship.
Statistically, the points leader for the Aggies was Taylor with 25 points. Other notable performers included Marble with 13 points and Radford with 16 points. A&M impressively shot over 50% from both the field and 3-point line.
Taylor was arguably A&M’s most important player in the game because of his incredible second-half performance. At a time when the Commodores were making their run, Taylor responded with a big shot of his own almost every time.
Williams said Taylor’s best asset is the innate ability he has to understand the flow of the game.
“I think [Taylor] understands time, score and momentum arguably as [well] as any fourth semester college player in the country,” Taylor said. “Not just because he’s the point guard. I think he has an elite feel [for the game]. Yes, I understand he can score. Yes, I understand he’s fun to watch, but what makes him so special is he is comfortable on that invisible line of should I shoot or create for someone else? Should we go faster or slower?”
Saturday’s victory sets up A&M’s second game against Alabama in a little over a week. The difference with this one is it is for the tournament championship. The game is set for 12 p.m on Sunday, March 11. Taylor is excited to have another crack at it.
“It’s a blessing,” Taylor said. “We worked very hard to get back to this point. Being 6-5 [on December 25], nobody thought we would be here. Trying to complete the job [on Sunday].”

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