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

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One last dance

Photo by Robert O’Brien

Fifth-year guard Quenton Jackson shoots a layup in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Mar. 29, 2022.

NEW YORK, NY — Madison Square Garden has always been known for its historic events since its opening in 1968. Fans have witnessed the birth of Linsanity, Muhammid Ali vs Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” in 1971 and Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds. Now, Aggieland gets to witness Texas A&M’s opportunity to win its first National Invitational Tournament. 

On Wednesday, March 29, A&M basketball had a historic night in the “Big Apple” as it took down Washington State 72-56 in the semifinals of the NIT tournament to advance to the championship game against Xavier.

Both sides of the court were skittish for the majority of the first half, as neither team reached double-digit points until nine minutes into the first half. A&M had seven personal fouls by the 13-minute mark, shot 6-for-24 from the field in the first 12 minutes of the game and struggled to make more than one free throw from the charity stripe in the first 10 minutes.

Despite not performing well on the offensive side of the court, the Aggies forced 10 turnovers in the first half, forced the Cougars to make only eight of their 25 shot attempts and held senior guard Michael Flowers to only five points after scoring 27 total in the game before.

A&M coach Buzz Williams said the ability to execute new defensive schemes implemented by the coaching staff each game in the tournament has played a significant role in the Aggies’ success on the court.

“It’s not just the guys on the ball, it’s the guys that are behind the ball,” Williams said. “Those are the guys making a difference. We are anticipating it, we’re in unison, we’re aggressive while we are in unison and, for the most part, we play without fouling. That has been a big portion as to why we are still playing.”

It wasn’t until graduate guard Quenton “Q” Jackson served as the spark the Aggies needed and put together 10 points shooting 4-for-5 from the field after scoring the only 3-point shot in the first half, a couple layups and an and-1 finish at the rim, converting the free throw directly after.

After shaking off the first half jitters, the Aggies came out of the locker room faster than the subways underneath the concrete streets of New York City.

Starting off 0-for-4 from the field and 2-for-7 at the end of the first half, freshman guard Manny Obaseki turned it around, connecting on five of his seven shots, including a floater that resulted in a blown whistle and an extra shot from the penalty line. 

“I think that is a testament to the trust the staff and players have in me,” Obaseki said. “When you are going through a slump you don’t put your head down, you keep going. [Jackson] told me to keep going and that is exactly what I did.” 

Washington State started the second half the exact same way as the first, with a turnover that led to a quick A&M basket. Sophomore forward Henry Coleman III did his job as a problem to opposing teams in the paint and put together three straight buckets. 

Sophomore guard Hassan Diarra, a New York native, got his chance to shine in the second half in front of his family, with a four-point play that put the fans on their feet and opposing fans in their seats.  

The paint turned from a Knicks blue to an Aggie maroon in the semifinal game as A&M scored 58 of its 72 points in the paint, scoring two more than the Cougars’ total.

Late in the first half and midway through the second, Washington coach Kevin Smith transitioned his team from man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone, and that is when the point differential grew in favor of the Aggies.

Jackson said continuing to attack the opponents while they sat back on their heels played a crucial part of their success in the zone, with a little help from the 6-foot-8 Duke transfer, as well. 

“Throughout the game, we tried to stay aggressive,” Jackson said. “We didn’t want to stay passive in a zone, we wanted to stay aggressive. We attacked while they were flat-footed, had a lot of dump downs and Henry [Coleman] ate off them.”

Jackson led the Aggies in points with 18, Coleman followed right after him with 16 and Obaseki was just five points shy from reaching his career-high of 19 points.

As for rebounds, junior guard Tyrece “Boots” Radford lived up to his nickname and led the team in rebounds with seven total. Radford ranks first in a single season among SEC players 6-foot-2 or shorter, going back to 1996, in rebounds with 242 total and 87 offensive. Behind him is Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley with 231 total and Cleveland Cavalier guard Rajon Rondo with 204 total.

A&M basketball will play in the NIT championship game on Thursday, March 31 in MSG at 7 p.m. EST against Xavier, which won its semifinal game against St. Bonaventure 84-77.

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