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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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Texas A&M outfielder Jace Laviolette (17) robs a home run from Florida infielder Cade Kurland (4) in the top of the ninth inning during Texas A&M’s game against Florida at the NCAA Men’s College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, June 15, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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Capitalizing on an improbable journey

Billy+Kennedy
Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker
Billy Kennedy

LOS ANGELES — When unranked Texas A&M opened its season with a 23-point victory over then No. 11 West Virginia at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, many were surprised A&M had defeated “Press-Virginia” so lopsidedly.
Sunday evening, when sophomore forward Robert Williams prepared to slam yet another windmill dunk as A&M cruised past reigning national champion North Carolina 86-65, many were stunned.
However, this shock was for a completely different reason. A&M’s improbable run to the Sweet 16 is partially fueled by the fact that 10 weeks ago, it seemed as if the Aggies were on the verge of not making the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
The Aggies had suffered their fifth straight conference loss. Before the five-game skid, the Aggies were ranked No. 5 overall in the nation and were firing on all cylinders.
Then came the suspensions, illnesses and injuries. Junior forward DJ Hogg was suspended from the first two games of conference play for violating team policy. In the same time frame, junior guard Admon Gilder was recovering from a knee injury he suffered during the Aggie’s non-conference schedule. It wasn’t until the fifth conference loss A&M head coach Billy Kennedy finally had his team back together.
The Aggies then went on to win two games, lose two, win four, lose three and finally finish out the season with three-straight wins. Before the final push in the last three games of the season and after the Aggies 93-81 loss to Mississippi State, the team took it upon themselves to have a players-only meeting.
“We just felt like everyone was kind of branching out when things started falling apart, they were doing their own thing,” Williams said. “So we just had to buy into, ‘We’re all here for each other.’ Letting the coaching staff know, too, along with the players, we’re here for a mission.”
With two of A&M’s three leaders in and out of the lineup, junior center Tyler Davis was the only player to start every game. Davis said despite the inconsistent lineup, controversy and shaky play throughout such a turbulent season, he never doubted A&M’s ability to reach the stage they are at right now.
“I never lost track and my confidence definitely didn’t drop in my guys,” Davis said. “We had a great summer; the young guys did a great job of stepping up during those games. We lost a couple, but I thought we had a great practice leading up to those games, a great effort in the games as well. So, I think we handled the ups and downs as best we can.”
Through it all, Kennedy remained true to many of the values A&M is known for. Kennedy preaches the importance of having a clean and honest program, which is why he suspended so many players despite the struggles the team had on the hardwood.
“We had knee injuries, we had suspensions, unfortunately,” Kennedy said. “But our culture is very important to us and doing the right things and growing as a program is very important to us.”
Kennedy said the adversity the team faced throughout the year was necessary to prepare them for the postseason.
“Sometimes you [need] to go two steps backwards to go one step forward,” Kennedy said. “Fortunately, our guys bought in and grew up some, and that’s why we’re in this position today.”
Now as the Aggies prepare to take on No. 3-seed Michigan on Thursday night at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, A&M is ready to move past the trials and tribulations they faced throughout the season and focus on the Wolverines.
“Our goal is to get to San Antonio, and whoever is in our way is what we need to be prepared for next,” Kennedy said. “But we’ve done a good job of putting that behind us and getting focused on the next challenge [in Michigan], which is a very well-coached … basketball team.”
No. 7-seed A&M will face No. 3-seed Michigan on Thursday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Tip-off is set for 6:37 p.m. CT.

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