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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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Commentary: A&M basketball could be in for long season

Junior+guard+and+Virginia+Tech+transfer%2C%26%23160%3BTyrece+Radford+beats+Kingsville+guard+C.J.+Smith+to+the+ball+early+in+the+first+half.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Junior guard and Virginia Tech transfer, Tyrece Radford beats Kingsville guard C.J. Smith to the ball early in the first half.

Midway through the second half of A&M men’s basketball’s season-opening exhibition, coach Buzz Williams took his glasses off to clean them on his shirt. Maybe he was unsure if the team on the court looked like one he could be proud of. Depending on what he saw, he may need to keep cleaning.
The Aggies left Reed Arena with a narrow 76-72 victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville on Monday, Nov. 1. Maybe Halloween night was a little too fun, but there is no reason for an Souteastern Conference team to barely hang on against a Division II opponent.
Williams said the issues that hurt A&M in the game have been diagnosed.
“What we’re trying to accomplish offensively and defensively is completely different than last year,” Williams said. “I think we kind of know where our deficiencies are, regardless of who we play. The same things that bothered us [in a scrimmage last week] were the same things that bothered us tonight.”
But knowing a problem and having the capacity to fix it are entirely different. A&M’s shooting was reminiscent of the poor performances in years past, the turnovers in the first half were rampant and the 3-point shot defense was nearly nonexistent. If you watched the Aggies play last year, you know these issues all too well by now.
The first half of the game was a testament to recurring issues within Williams’ tenure at A&M. The maroon and white turned the ball over eight times in the first 20 minutes, leading to 16 points, and allowed 11 offensive rebounds from A&M-Kingsville. All of these problems culminated into the Aggies only holding the lead for five minutes in the first half.
“We were really poor in our turnover rate in the first half [and] really good in the second half. I thought they obliterated us on the glass, offensively for sure,” Williams said. “We [were] in bad, bad rotation to be in position to get a rebound. A lot of guys are playing for the first time. The rep of this is what we needed in many regards.”
Sure, rust and first-game jitters absolutely exist. The improvements on the court everywhere but beyond the arc in the second half proved that. With only five players returning from last year’s squad — because the remaining eight jumped ship — it will definitely take time to rebuild from what was already a poor season.
The Javelinas’ 12 3-point makes were half of A&M-Kingsville’s scoring. Keep in mind this is not Kansas, Alabama or even Vanderbilt, but a Division II program. While Williams attributed the deep-scoring volume to issues with A&M’s defensive rotations, there ought to be a point in which talented transfers and high-level recruits tip the scales against outclassed opponents.
“We only contested 44 percent of their threes, and that’s a very low number,” Williams said. “The reason the contest was late was because we were having to help on the middle drive.”
However, much of basketball can be viewed in isolation from team play, and a prime example of that is 3-point shooting.
For a team Williams has said will be better at shooting, it should not take eight attempts and 12 minutes for A&M to make its first 3-pointer of the night. While the deep shooting balanced out to a decent 35.71 percent in the first half, the 18.18 percent in the second felt familiar in a bad way. Since Williams took over the program in the 2019-2020 season, the maroon and white has not averaged over 30 percent from deep.
“We need to shoot the right shots at the right times, maybe a little bit more,” Williams said. “But I don’t think that there was selfishness or [a sense of], ‘I’m not sure.’ I think they were sure when they shot it, maybe it just wasn’t always at the right time.”
The whole purpose of an exhibition match before the season’s official opening is to act as a measuring stick. Find out where your team is, its strengths and weaknesses, and get some time to hone in on them in a game setting.
The last two seasons under Williams saw improvements too late in the second half of the season when A&M had already squandered too many opportunities. A&M junior forward Tyrece Radford, who transferred from Virginia Tech, said A&M’s performance in the exhibition was not “aesthetically pleasing” but worked out for a win.
“We’re still putting pieces where they need to be, and hopefully, in this next week, we’re able to do that,” Radford said. “We share the ball good, but that could get a little better. Our movement on offense can get better, and our transition defense can get a lot better.”
With all that looked wrong on the court, there is still much to be said for Williams and the Aggies. A&M-Kingsville was 15-3 overall last year in its weaker playing field and is returning all but two players. But more importantly, Williams is a master of the emotional and human-development aspects of basketball.
While Monday’s game gave little hope for a more competitive team in 2021-2022, Williams is only in his third year with A&M and is having to start almost entirely over this year. Championships may not be on the agenda this year, but they may not be too far away either.
“I learned it from [Williams]. We use basketball to teach life,” A&M-Kingsville coach Johnny Estelle said. “That’s why we do this. I know the fans and everybody wants championships and that’s going to come, but he’s coaching the game the right way. He’s developing leaders in America, and he’s doing a great job of it.”
Casey Stavenhagen is a English senior and co-sports editor for The Battalion.

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