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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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A&M may have found its offense, but can the defense keep up?

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Photo by Jonathan Taffet

Sophomore G Tineya Hylton (3) celebrates during A&M’s game at Reed Arena on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2022.

The Texas A&M women’s basketball team was toast when it lost its bread and butter in an 88-79 loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday, Jan. 29.

While battling through a slew of injuries, the theme of the season for the Aggies has been solid, hard-nosed defense coupled with an oftentimes ineffective, low-scoring offense. At 6-13, A&M remained competitive in games thanks to its efforts on the defensive side of the ball, albeit while the team has played catch up on the offensive end.

Despite being National Corn Chip Day, Sunday’s matchup with the Commodores felt like opposite day. While the maroon and white far surpassed its scoring average of 52.5 points, the defense wasn’t its usual self, as they allowed Vanderbilt to score 21 more than its average of 66.8 points per game. 

“We just didn’t defend the way we needed to, and that’s what’s most disappointing,” coach Joni Taylor said. “That’s not who we have been. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

The key to such an offensive explosion for the Commodores was the work of graduate guard Ciaja Harbison, who tied a program record with 41 points in 38 minutes of action. The St. Louis transfer connected on 14 of 19 field goals, including two of four from 3-point range and 11 of 13 free throws. 

The home team took advantage of sloppy ball-handling by the Aggies, tallying 20 points off of turnovers. A&M also gifted Vanderbilt with 27 fouls, which led to 27 free throws, 21 of which the Commodores sank. 

“What we needed to do today was take away threes, not let them get to the free throw line and not let them turn us over,” Taylor said. “And they did all three of those things.”

Sunday’s contest marked just the second time this season that Taylor’s crew has allowed its opponent to score beyond its offensive average. The first time coming in last week’s 75-73 win over a Georgia team that scored 66.6 points per game to enter the matchup. Much like Sunday’s game, the Aggies’ offense stepped up in the victory, due in large part to the return of freshman forward Janiah Barker to the lineup, who suffered a wrist injury on Nov. 30.

After having just seven players available for the first seven games of conference play, the additions of Barker, sophomore guard Tineya Hylton and junior guard Sahara Jones have been welcome additions for a team looking to establish itself halfway through the conference slate. Barker and Hylton, both Georgia transfers, combined for 34 points against their native team. Jones returned to action against the Commodores and the trio scored 22 points.

While Barker had a productive defensive outing on Sunday with three blocks, a steal and a team-high nine rebounds, two of which came on the offensive glass, the rest of the squad failed to contain Vanderbilt’s sharpshooting, allowing a 53.7% field goal clip and a 45% rate from beyond the arc.

“They made nine 3s, they got to the free throw line,” Taylor said. “We let one of their players have a career night offensively, and we just didn’t look excited to play defense and defend like our backs were against the wall, like we’ve played lately.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. A&M’s 79 points were a season-high, upping the previous high of 75 points that it tallied against Georgia in its last time out. Graduate forward Aaliyah Patty’s 21 points led the way versus Vanderbilt, while junior guard Kay Kay Green added 17 as the duo combined to sink 16 of its 19 shots, including all three of its 3-point attempts.

The Aggies themselves shot at a successful 51.8% clip while connecting on six of 19 3-pointers and 15 of 17 free throws. A&M was dominant in the paint as well, with 38 points coming in the lane, but, as has been a trend throughout this campaign, the team saved its best basketball for the second half, where it added 47 of its total points. 

The Aggies will now aim to sustain their offensive momentum while getting more players involved on defense to slow down the opposition. If they can do so, then A&M may be in position to make a run in the second half of conference play.

“While we are scoring more, we’re also giving up more and we’ve got to get that fixed,” Taylor said.

Since the loss to Vanderbilt, A&M lost its next matchup on the road against Florida 61-54. The Aggies shot a rough 34% from the field and lost the rebound margin by nine.

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