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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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Persistent press guides Texas A&M past Vanderbilt 77-72

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Photo by Photo by: Morgan Engel

Sophomore forward Anriel Howard had a game-high 17 points in the Aggies’ win over Vanderbilt.

A strangling second half defensive shift fueled a furious comeback by Texas A&M (11-3, 1-0 SEC), as the Aggies took down Vanderbilt (10-4, 0-1 SEC) 77-72 in their conference opener.

“Folks, that was as good of a comeback as we’ve had in a long time,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said after the game.”This is the way this team is. Don’t count us out, we’ll find a way.”

Vanderbilt made five of its first six shots of the second half to take a 48-35 lead with 6:13 in the third quarter – the Commodores’ largest lead of the game – and at the time, seemed as if it might run away with a win.

Sophomore forward Anriel Howard swiped a careless pass on the ‘Dores next possession, however, taking it for an easy layup and then the press was on. A&M was relentless with its backcourt pressure from that point forward, as the Aggies transitioned 11 second half turnovers by the ‘Dores into 21 points.

“We knew we would have to press eventually in the game if we were down by double-figures, but I think our press was effective when it needed to be,” senior point guard Curtyce Knox said. “We got some key turnovers at the end of the game and that helped build our momentum.”

Blair stated that while the press was certainly effective, it was the entire sequence that allowed the Aggies to rapidly claw their way back with Howard forming the centerpiece of the comeback.

“It wasn’t the press as much as we sped up the game,” Blair stated.”We had some good transition and then when I can keep Anriel in the ballgame just doing her thing, she made some huge plays in the second half.”

A&M outscored Vandy 27-15 in the fourth quarter and tallied 51 points in the second half. The Aggies also held a critical advantage from the free throw line, going 21-of-24 compared to the ‘Dores 10-of-14.

“When Texas A&M did what they do best and turn up the pressure on the defensive end of the floor, we weren’t able to handle it,” Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White said. “At the end of the day, you can’t afford to give a team 21 points off the free throw line, 23 points off turnovers and 16 second-chance points.”

Vandy shot superbly in the third quarter, making 8-of-12 jumpers from the field, and the ‘Dores held onto a 57-50 advantage heading into the final frame. Their red-hot shooting went south in the fourth though, as Vandy was a mere 6-of-18 (33 percent) in the final ten minutes.

“It didn’t look good, even in the third quarter when we were coming back. We had trouble stopping them even in the third quarter, they shot 66 percent and we only cut their lead down to two,” Blair added. “In the fourth quarter, we made a couple of good stops, they missed some wide-open looks and we made some big-time plays.”

In total, five A&M players scored in double-figures, led by Howard who tied with Jasmine Lumpkin with a game-high 17 points. Howard added 13 rebounds for a double-double. Knox and Danni Williams followed closely with 16 and 15 points respectively. Khaalia Hillsman posted 10 points on the night.

Nothing seemed to fall for A&M in the first half, as the Aggies shot just 31 percent from the field, while Vanderbilt countered with a 47 percent mark. As a result, the ‘Dores were able to build a 35-26 halftime lead.

“During halftime, the coaches got on us how we needed to pick it up,” Howard said.”This is our SEC home opener, we haven’t lost the SEC home opener in the last four games.

A&M suffered shooting struggles in the first quarter, sinking just 4-of-17 shots (22 percent). Vandy shot well, hitting 6-of-13 jumpers in the first ten minutes, but its five turnovers – which A&M converted to only two points – in the quarter were costly as the ‘Dores held a slight 13-10 advantage after one quarter.

Curtyce Knox provided a spark for A&M to open the second quarter, scoring eight straight points that gave the Aggies an 18-17 lead at the 7:36 mark. Vandy would respond by hitting five of their next seven shots to rebuild a 32-22 lead with 2:41 to go in the quarter.

The win provides the Aggies with momentum moving forward, as four of their next five games are on the road, which Blair believes can provide his team with a great chance to come together.

“Sometimes you can do more [bonding] on the road in somebody else’s gym,” Blair concluded. “Hopefully we can get home for Arkansas in a couple ball games. We’ve got to throw the sink at Georgia, because we know how good Kentucky is.”

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