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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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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Motivated by 2022 shortcomings, Aggies look to continue SEC success

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Photo by Ishika Samant

Junior F Andersson Garcia celebrates after the timer runs down at Reed Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

Don’t look now, but the Texas A&M men’s basketball team finds itself sitting at second place in the SEC.
A month after being upset at home by Wofford on Dec. 20, 2022, the Aggies are riding a seven-game win streak and are 5-0 in conference play entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup with Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. A&M is seeking its first victory at Rupp Arena since an 83-71 triumph in 2013, when senior guard Elston Turner dropped 40 points, one of just three players to ever do so at the Wildcats’ home.
In a contest of who will blink first, the Aggies are now neck-and-neck with No. 4 Alabama as they compete for the top spot in the SEC standings. While it’s a bright outlook for a team looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time under fourth-year coach Buzz Williams, it’s undoubtedly a different picture than what was painted after a disappointing nonconference performance.
The maroon and white opened the campaign with two commanding wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Abilene Christian before dropping two of its three games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, including an embarrassing blowout loss to Colorado. Two weeks later, the Aggies suffered a 15-point defeat to Boise State before a close loss on the road to Memphis and an upset by the Terriers. The team responded with a victory over Northwestern State, albeit in a game in which they trailed for the entirety of the first half.
For a team ranked just outside of the Top 25 to start the season and coming off an appearance in the NIT Championship, it seemed as if the basketball program was taking a page out of the A&M football team’s book by not living up to lofty expectations. The Aggies haven’t reached the Big Dance since 2018, and making the NIT wouldn’t cut it.
The team must have heard the message loud and clear, as it buckled down to win its next five contests. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, with nailbiting moments coming versus then-No. 20 Missouri, despite what the final score of 82-64 against the Tigers may indicate, and both duels with Florida. But the streak has its share of highs as well, such as dominant victories over LSU, whom the Aggies hadn’t beaten in College Station since 2017, and South Carolina.
So here we are, with A&M looking good at 5-0 in the SEC and an NCAA Tournament berth within reach. If this all seems familiar, it’s because it was precisely the situation last season, when graduate guard Quenton Jackson was wowing fans with his high-flying dunks and junior forward Henry Coleman III and sophomore guard Wade Taylor IV were newcomers in Aggieland.
Given that squad’s 15-2 kickoff of the season, few would have guessed it would drop its next eight games. Now, we all know the story from here; A&M rallied to win the final four games of the regular season before reaching the SEC Tournament championship. The Aggies were left out of the NCAA Tournament — snubbed, in some eyes — but made the NIT Championship, where they fell to Xavier by a single point.
This time around, A&M looks to put together a tournament-worthy resume during the regular season, with or without a Cinderella run in the conference tournament. ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi currently has the Aggies on the bubble as one of the “First Four Out” teams. The road ahead won’t be easy, though, with matchups at No. 16 Auburn and No. 25 Arkansas before the end of the month, and visits to Reed Arena by the likes of Georgia, Auburn, the Razorbacks, No. 9 Tennessee and Alabama.
“We have a lot of players on the team [that] are main parts of this team that [were] a part of that team last year,” senior guard Tyrece Radford said. “It’s pretty much up to us to steer the rest of the team and the new guys in a different direction, because we’ve been there, we know the feeling [and] we know what that did for us. We know winning one game out of that streak could have changed the whole end of the season for us, and it’s up to us to turn it.”
However, the key to such success will be to take things one game at a time, starting with Kentucky on Saturday. Junior forward and Michigan State transfer Julius Marble has burst onto the scene, averaging 14.8 points and 5 rebounds per game in conference play, while graduate guard and Wichita State transfer Dexter Dennis has emerged on both ends of the court, averaging 11.8 points and 8 rebounds during that stretch.
Taylor, Radford and Coleman remain A&M’s top scorers and are major reasons why the Aggies boast the fourth-best offense in the SEC with 76.2 points per game. This success has even come after the loss of sophomore guard Manny Obaseki, who went down in the first matchup against Florida with a fractured hand and will be out two to four more weeks.
The upcoming stretch of games will reveal whether this team is a legitimate contender in the SEC and an NCAA Tournament threat, or if the Aggies are on a trajectory similar to last season’s, being excluded from March Madness once again. After retaining most of the players from that group, this year’s squad is fueled by motivation to live up to its billing.
“We don’t want to be in that same situation,” Radford said. “We’re going to do our best to control what we can control at this point and try not to focus on what happened last year.”

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