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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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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Commentary: “A season to remember”

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Photo by Ishika Samant

Sophomore G Manny Obaski (35) taps in to go onto the court during a game vs. Alabama on March 12, 2023 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Tennessee.

Texas A&M men’s basketball, fresh off of an NIT finals appearance in 2022, came into the 2022-23 season with lofty expectations for the Buzz Williams era. With the only major departure from the program being guard Quenton Jackson, and the additions of players like junior forward Julius Marble and reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year graduate guard Dexter Dennis from the transfer portal, it was NCAA Tournament or bust for the Aggies.

Marred by Myrtle Beach

After easily handling Louisiana-Monroe and Abiliene Christian to start the season, A&M headed to the Myrtle Beach Invitational in hopes of securing what Aggie faithful thought would be the first of many accolades that season.

The Murray State Racers had other plans. In a game that, on paper, should have been a cakewalk, A&M was stunned by the Racers. Only a few days after cracking the AP poll for the first time since 2018, A&M found itself on the wrong side of a newsworthy upset.

However, the Invitational was a tournament, so the Aggies had a chance to right the ship against Colorado the next day.

The Buffaloes beat A&M by 28 points, shooting 16-32 from deep, and the doubt already began creeping into not only Aggie fan’s minds but the nation. Was a team that was a shot away from an NIT championship last year, a team picked to finish sixth in a strong SEC slate, overrated?

 

Dog days of December

 

The noise got louder in December.

After taking care of business against Depaul and SMU, A&M faced what many considered to be its biggest test so far in the young season at the Battlegrounds 2K22 event in Fort Worth against Boise State.

The Broncos came into Texas and treated Dickies Arena like their home court, beating the Aggies by 15 and firmly placing the hands of Aggie fans on the panic button. But with the only real non-conference test coming from Memphis, it appeared A&M could tend to its wounds before conference play.

This was before Wofford dealt another devastating blow to the Aggies’ resume. On Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Terriers came into Reed Arena as heavy underdogs. They did not bow down and shocked the Aggies to give them their fifth loss on the season. It appeared to many, at this point, that the five-year streak of missing the NCAA Tournament would stretch to six.

 

It just means more

 

Going into conference play, A&M was not on anyone’s tournament radar. An 8-5 team with two Quad 4 losses shouldn’t have been. It took a lot for the Aggies to play themselves into the field.

As if a brand new team suited up in maroon and white, A&M opened SEC play on fire, beating Florida twice, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina.

The Aggies, a team that seemed dead in the water, were suddenly surging back to life. A loss to Kentucky on the road gave A&M its first conference loss, but also meant they had still yet to secure a quality win for its resume.

The Aggies would get their chance against Auburn. Going into the first matchup against the Tigers, Auburn was riding the No. 1 home winning streak in the country, a challenge that showed if the Aggies were contenders or pretenders.

One broken record and 16-point road victory later, and for the first time since the beginning of the season, Aggie fans had something they hadn’t had since the start of the season: hope.

That hope, in conjunction with students returning from Christmas break, served as a call to action to current and former A&M students. Reed Arena needed to be rowdy.

And rowdy it was. From the Pink Out game against Vanderbilt to the season finale against No. 2 Alabama, Reed Arena averaged 12,021 fans, helping to make it one of the most formidable environments not just in the SEC, but in the country.

In almost the blink of an eye, the Aggies went from one of the worst, to vying for first. With a road win against Mississippi State, A&M had the chance for first place in the SEC with a win against Alabama the following Sunday.

The Bulldogs, who themselves were fighting for an NCAA Tournament spot, snuffed out not only the Aggies’ offense, but any shot they had at a regular season title in the 69-62 loss. This meant that the final conference home game against No. 2 Alabama was for nothing more than resume building and pride.

In front of a sold-out Reed Arena crowd, A&M closed out the regular season with its toughest challenge of the year, as they attempted to control the Crimson Tide and future lottery pick in freshman forward Brandon Miller.

Led by sophomore point guard Wade Taylor IV’s career-high 28 points, the Aggies made history. Not only did A&M knock off No. 2 Alabama 67-61, but it also reached 15 conference wins for the first time in the school’s history. 

Due to their efforts in conference play, the Aggies went from 8-5 with no shot of postseason play, to 23-8 with a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament and an NCAA Tournament berth all but locked up.

To the victor go the spoils

 

After leading A&M to a 15-3 conference record, coach Buzz Williams earned a share of the SEC Coach of the Year award, his second in his tenure as the head coach for the Aggies.

Taylor, after ending the season with a team-leading 16.6 points per game, found himself on the first-team all SEC team. This honor marked the first time since 2018 that an Aggie has made the first team.

Alongside Taylor, senior shooting guard Tyrece “Boots” Radford found himself on with second-team all SEC honors. Once again, this marked the first time multiple Aggies have earned all-SEC honors since the 2018 season.

 

Making noise in the Music City

 

After detouring to Tampa, Florida last year, the SEC Tournament was back in Nashville, and the Aggies looked to get back to the championship game once more.

Their first opponent was a familiar foe in the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team A&M split its regular season matchups with. Led by two future lottery picks in freshman point guard Anthony Black and freshman shooting guard Nick Smith Jr., the Aggies had to overcome a lot of talent if they wanted to move on. The Aggies found themselves outplayed at halftime, down 13 points and seemingly gearing themselves for an early exit.

A&M stormed back in the second half, outscoring the Razorbacks by 19 points. In an all-around team effort, four Aggies scored in double figures to send A&M on to the next round.

Its next foe was the hometown team, the Vanderbilt Commodores. Led by coach Jerry Stackhouse, who shared Co-SEC Coach of the Year honors with Williams, the Commodores were in a position the Aggies found themselves in the year prior. Vanderbilt needed to win to get in the NCAA Tournament and many smelled an upset on the horizon.

A&M shattered Cinderella’s slippers, ending Vanderbilt’s hopes for making the big dance, as the Aggies went into half in this contest with a 24-point lead. A&M never looked back, and kept its eyes forward to the next day, where they were due for a rematch against the Crimson Tide.

For the second straight year, the Aggies found themselves in the championship game, albeit with more favorable circumstances this year. Despite this, A&M still looked to slay the giant once more.

Unfortunately, for Aggie fans, the SEC Tournament ended with another fruitless championship, with Alabama having control of the game throughout to secure both an SEC regular season and tournament title. Unlike last year, A&M did not get a long plane ride and bus trip back to brood over the loss. 

It had a selection show to watch.

 

The historic run ends in Iowa

 

Anticipating their matchup, the Aggies and their faithful fans held bated breath. For the first time in five years, “Texas A&M” would be said aloud on Selection Sunday.

The expectation was a five or six seed, and as the Midwest region came to a close with Miami as the five seed and Iowa State as the six, most anticipated hearing A&M’s name in the next region.

Seven seed, Texas A&M.

In a flurry of confusion, Aggie fan’s social media pages erupted in hysterics. How did a team who finished second in the SEC get a seven seed? It wasn’t until the two seed matchup was announced that it began to make sense.

Two seed, Texas.

This meant that if A&M won the next round, they would be most likely facing off against its bitter rival. What should have been a celebratory occasion turned into a call for accountability from the NCAA. Despite all of this, the Aggies had a game to play against the 10 seed, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

In the early minutes of the opening round game, it seemed the Aggies and the Nittany Lions would be in for a slugfest. The tide quickly turned, and the early season began flooding back into the minds of the Aggie faithful.

In almost an instant, A&M found itself in a hole, fueled by Penn State’s electric 3-point shooting. The Aggies were outshot, outhustled and outplayed. Their historic season would be cut short, and A&M’s season came to a close in bittersweet fashion.

 

Thanks for the memories

 

As the Aggies’ season closed out, fittingly, a torrential downpour rolled into College Station. Aggie fans took the time to reminisce on what was a historic season for Aggie basketball. A team that appeared as if they failed to meet expectations rose to new heights. 

New faces, like Dennis, Marble and junior forward Andersson Garcia captured the hearts of the 12th Man. 

Familiar faces took their game to the next level, earning accolades A&M has not seen in the Buzz Williams era. 

The Aggies set records, played in front of sold out Reed Arena crowds and took the campus by storm.

Despite what was a disappointing loss to Aggie fans, the 2022-23 A&M men’s basketball team will be one that is forever cemented in the history books. And with almost all its pieces expected to return next year, Aggie basketball will look to use the experiences gained this year and take not just the SEC, but college basketball by storm next year.

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