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

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

The Battalion

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A&M’s offense goes cold

Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

Junior F Julius Marble (34) watches the ball go out of bounds during a game vs. Tennessee at Reed Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

Texas A&M men’s basketball entered its matchup Saturday, Feb. 25, against 18-9 Mississippi State in second place in the SEC standings with a real shot to win the regular season title. A&M’s regular season and conference records were 21-7 and 13-2, respectively. As of now, the Aggies are positioned well to make the NCAA tournament, but a victory against the Bulldogs would only add to their resume.
Mississippi State finds itself right on the edge of making the NCAA Tournament, and is treating every game as a must-win. Without a previous matchup to draw on, A&M would have a difficult task defeating MSU at its place.
Mississippi State came out firing early and jumped out to a 5-0 lead. A&M’s offense relied on sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV creating offense off the dribble. Luckily for the Aggies, Taylor made a pair of 3-pointers to keep the game close at 8-6.
For the Bulldogs, their offense consisted of attacking the paint. Off of these drives, the Bulldogs were hoping to either get fouled, convert inside the paint or kick out to open shooters for 3-pointers. The maroon and white were struggling uncharacteristically on defense and trailed 11-6 following a 3-point play from the Bulldogs.
Approaching the halfway mark of the first half, Mississippi State led 21-12. The Bulldogs continued to play at a frenetic pace and attack the paint. The Aggies were struggling, but still managing to keep the score within 10 points.
A&M slowly started to chip away at MSU’s lead and trailed 24-18 with 10 minutes left in the half. The Bulldogs were continuing to find success on offense, but so were the maroon and white.
Taylor’s third 3-pointer of the half got A&M to within 3 points, 24-21, of Mississippi State. Taylor’s recent surge was continuing against the Bulldogs and keeping the maroon and white in the game.
Both teams continued to trade buckets with MSU leading 30-28 with three minutes left in the first half. Most of the bulldogs offense was coming from senior Tolu Smith. Smith had 7 points and was making a living in the paint by converting layups and getting to the free-throw line. For the Aggies, their offense was coming from a former Bulldog in junior forward Andersson Garcia. Garcia’s 9 points off the bench were a major factor in the game being within 2 points.
Tough defense from both teams meant the score going into halftime remained 30-28. One of the storylines of the first half was Mississippi State was giving A&M a taste of its own medicine by winning the foul game. The Bulldogs attempted 12 free-throws to the Aggies’ four.
Luckily for the Aggies, the Bulldogs only converted six of its free-throw attempts, but the sheer number of fouls being committed could lead to foul trouble later on in the game. Three — junior forward Julius Marble, Garcia and freshman forward Solomon Washington — of A&M’s four “post” players had two fouls in the first half.
Arguably the biggest issue for the Aggies was their struggle to keep the Bulldogs off the offensive glass. In the first half, Mississippi State had seven offensive rebounds and was making a habit of converting its second-chance opportunities.
Outside of stellar play from Taylor and Garcia, no other A&M player was having a huge impact on offense. To win the game, A&M would either need to have more magic from Taylor or a more balanced approach on offense to walk out of Starkville, Miss. with a victory.
A 3-pointer from graduate guard Dexter Dennis gave A&M its first lead of the game at 31-30. Mississippi State’s junior guard Shakeel Moore responded with a 3-pointer of his own to get the lead back from A&M.
Taylor’s fourth 3-pointer of the game gave the Aggies a 36-33 lead with 17 minutes left in the game. Another 3-pointer off of a Garcia tip out extended A&M’s lead to 41-35 going into the under-16-minute timeout.
Foul trouble continued to be an issue for A&M as Marble, Washington and Garcia each picked up their third fouls of the game. The Aggies seemed to have figured out how to contain MSU’s offense, but it would be interesting to see how coach Buzz Williams would adjust the defensive gameplan with so many forwards getting into foul trouble.
The Bulldogs refused to go away, and got back to 46-45 with 10 minutes left in the game. Mississippi State got the lead back at 47-46 on the following possession. Taylor went one of two from the free-throw line to tie the game at 47.
Sloppy offensive play led to a scoring drought from the Aggies, but Mississippi State was equally struggling to build on its 49-47 lead with seven minutes left in the game. A pair of free-throws from Taylor tied the game back at 49. A&M was depending heavily on free-throws as they had not hit a field goal in almost eight minutes.
A quick 4-0 spurt from the Bulldogs woke up the home faithful and gave them a 53-49 lead over the Aggies with a little over five minutes left in the game.
Mississippi State’s lead continued to hover around 4 points with four minutes left to play. The Aggies scoring drought had approached the double-digit mark. A transition dunk from the Bulldogs extended their lead to 57-51.
The Bulldogs continued to hold the Aggies at arm’s length and led 62-54. It was looking increasingly likely A&M would drop its third conference game of the season.
A quick 4-0 run from A&M made things interesting with 1:18 left in the game. The Bulldogs still led 64-60, but there was added pressure as the game was reaching its conclusion. On the ensuing possession, an A&M foul put Mississippi State back on the free-throw line. The Bulldogs converted both attempts to get their lead back to 66-60 with a minute left.
A pair of free-throws from junior forward Henry Coleman got the Aggies back to within 4 points of the Bulldogs lead. However, a Taylor turnover on its next possession was the nail in A&M’s coffin.
In the end, MSU ended up winning 69-62 over A&M. The main reason for A&M’s loss was going ice cold on offense in the second half. The Bulldogs played like a team fighting to make the NCAA tournament and played harder than the Aggies on both ends of the floor.
Williams said Mississippi State’s ability to force A&M to play at a slower pace was one of the main reasons for Saturday’s loss.
“I think that they played to who they are better than we played to who we are,” Williams said. “I think a portion of that is our turnover rate. We had eight turnovers in each half. We have had that many turnovers before, but in a game that’s the slowest game we’ve played in a long time it’s a little magnified because it prevents us from having an opportunity to get a shot [off].”
Looking long-term, A&M’s fate in both the SEC and NCAA tournament will come down to execution on the offensive end. Taylor struggling from the 3-point line in the second half meant there wasn’t a hot hand for the Aggies to go to when they were struggling. A&M still has two more regular season games to figure things out offensively, but its second-half performance on Saturday is not a recipe for victory.
Foul trouble also highlighted some of the depth issues A&M has at the forward and center positions. For most of the season, A&M has run four forwards: Marble, Coleman, Garcia and Washington. The Aggies have to ensure those players stay out of foul trouble to have success at the SEC and NCAA tournament.
To win the SEC, A&M now needs Alabama to lose its next game against Auburn to set up a winner-take-all matchup on Saturday, March 4 at Reed Arena.
Up next for the Aggies is yet another matchup in Mississippi. This time A&M travels to Oxford, Miss. to face Ole Miss on Tuesday, Feb. 28. First tip at the Pavilion is set for 8 p.m.

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