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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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Free falling

Aggies drop third straight to Arkansas with postseason hopes in jeopardy
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Texas A&M Aggies guard Tyrece Radford (23) blocks Arkansas Razorbacks guard Tramon Mark (12) during Texas A&M’s game against Arkansas on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, at Reed Arena. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

After Texas A&M men’s basketball blew out No. 6 Tennessee at home, the Aggies were projected as a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament, and had nothing but opportunities ahead to boost their seed line.

In a cruel twist of fate for Aggie fans over the last week and a half, A&M appears it’s now on the outside looking in for the Big Dance after being swept by Arkansas at home, 78-71.

The Maroon and White took the early lead, stretching it to as much as 6 at the 9:26 mark, but just two minutes later, the Razorbacks grabbed their first lead off of an and-1 free throw from graduate guard Khalif Battle and did not look back.

Arkansas had as large as a 10-point lead in the second half, and never trailed in the half. The Aggies made things interesting with 2:44 left, as they went on a 6-0 run to draw within 3. However, junior G Tramon Mark — who knocked off the Aggies on a buzzer beater earlier this year — drilled a 3 and was fouled on the following possession, driving the proverbial dagger into the game.

The Aggies play down to competition, and it may keep them out of the postseason

A&M is not playing like an NCAA tournament team, whatsoever. Three games ago, they were. This is why this stretch of games, losses to Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas, has been so perplexing.

“It’s all of those details, all of those small categories,” coach Buzz Williams said. “ In cumulative, we didn’t do enough.”

The only teams with more Quad-1 wins than A&M in the country are the current projected No. 1 seeds. Strictly from that statistic, the Aggies would seem like a lock for March Madness. But now with another loss to Arkansas, the Maroon and White have five Quad-3 losses which will haunt them if they are one of the few teams whose fates are being weighed on Selection Sunday.

If you eliminate the bad losses in conference play — Arkansas twice, LSU and Vanderbilt — A&M’s only conference losses would be to Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama — all understandable losses.

Unfortunately for Aggie fans, this is purely a hypothetical. The teams who make the tournament with an at-large bid do so because they win the games they’re supposed to. A&M has a puzzling inability to put away lesser competition, and it could prove the difference between NCAA and NIT come March.

The Aggies don’t have a guard who can come off the bench and give productive minutes

The tandem of junior G Wade Taylor IV and graduate G Tyrece Radford has been well documented this season, as both have been the backcourt catalyst for the Aggies all season. Recently, junior G Jace Carter has also been coming into his own, averaging 7.75 points per game in the last four games.

As for the other guards, it’s tough to identify where A&M can get consistent scoring off of the bench.

Graduate G Eli Lawrence has seen his minutes plummet since the beginning of the season. Senior G Hayden Hefner, after being in the starting lineup the first half of the season, has struggled from deep in conference play. Junior G Manny Obaseki has had good minutes this season, but they’ve been erratic and unreliable.

Against the Razorbacks, the three bench guards combined for seven points on 2-6 shooting, with Hefner being the only one to attempt multiple shots.

If Taylor and Radford are both on, they’re one of the most difficult duos to stop. If they’re off, like they were against Arkansas, the Aggies have no other guards to turn to that can get them reliable points.

The season is not over, but the Aggies have to flip a switch now

Despite the loss, there is still life for the Maroon and White, but now the margin for error is paper thin.

The SEC is a difficult conference, but that means down the stretch, there are still plenty of chances for the Aggies to will themselves back into serious contention, but it has to start this Saturday, Feb. 24 at Tennessee.

Calling any game on the road in Knoxville, Tennessee a must win is bold, but with how A&M is trending, it’s as close to one as you can get. Sweeping the Volunteers would rack up another Quad-1 win, and that’s all the Aggies can ask for at this point.

The Maroon and White still have Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and South Carolina still left. Win out, and A&M is sitting at 20-11 with an uncommonly high number of Quad-1 wins.

We’ve just got to step up. We were all raised that way. We’ve faced a lot of controversy in our life, a lot of back-against-the-wall moments. So you’ve just got to say, ‘F it.’”

— Jace Carter

Of course, this is all easier said than done, but the path to playing in the Big Dance is still there. However, it can’t start next week: there aren’t enough games left on the schedule.

For the Aggies, it has to start now.

 

 

 

 

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About the Contributor
Hunter Mitchell, Associate Sports Editor
Hunter Mitchell is a sport management senior minoring in journalism. Hunter has covered football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, hockey, cross country, track and field, along with swim and dive. Hunter's favorite sport is college basketball, and he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writer's Association. Hunter also hosts weekly episodes of the Home Turf sports podcast.
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