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Aggie men’s basketball pulls out second-half win vs. Mississippi State, 72-52

Coach Billy Kennedy on the sidelines tried out several different combinations of players on the court vs. Mississippi State.
Coach Billy Kennedy on the sidelines tried out several different combinations of players on the court vs. Mississippi State.
Texas A&M Athletics

Kourtney Roberson started the Texas Aggie men’s basketball game off right, on Feb. 5, 2014. His “this means business” slam dunk was a crowd pleaser, but Mississippi State answered back with a 3-point shot for Mississippi State. Jamal Jones got his first three at the 17:13 mark and thus game started to resemble a ping-pong game for most of the night. Shot made, followed by return answered point.

Blake McDonald and Dylan Johns saw some playing time against Mississippi State.
Texas A&M Athletics,

It was good to see a newly energized Kourtney Roberson play the way the crowd had been hoping he would play, all season long now. When he did rebound, Kourtney battled for the ball like his life depended on it. Shawn Smith played hard, especially when he raced down the court in fast break sure-shots.

Overall, the Aggies played good defense in forcing Mississippi State into two 3-second lane violations, but the way the Aggies were defending was awkward. They were not even putting their hands in the air, which makes it quite the challenge to block shots.

The first substitution of the game was when Dylan Jones, Blake McDonald and Fabyon came in at 15:28 either giving the starters a rest or giving the coaches a chance to see if a new mixture of players on the floor might have better luck.

Just two days earlier Head Coach Billy Kennedy had said on his Monday Night “Wings N More” radio broadcast about how Dylan Johns was getting stronger every day. His rebounding was finally strong as he used his height to its fullest advantage. Mississippi State’s Jacoby Davis made a 3-pointer despite all the guarding the Aggies were trying. They would come up with 8 out of 19 tries for 3-pointers on the night.

Usually, the Bulldog treys occurred right when the Aggies looked as though they finally might be able to contain them and get a few points ahead. They caught up with the Aggies even though the Aggies actually seemed to be doing a better job of guarding. The first half was tight, and the Aggies went into the locker room tied with the Bulldogs at 26-26. Ironically, Aggies were sitting there congratulating each other on at least not being behind at halftime, something like marking an inch your child grows taller, with a pencil mark on the closet door.

Dylan Johns is the tallest man on the Aggie team but he’s not a natural-born rebounder. He’s just tall, and his shooting needs a lot of work. It’s quite a challenge to come over to College Station from London where it’s such a culture shock, but basketball is basketball, and it’s just going to take some time for Johns to find his role. On one play he tried four times to rebound the ball, and he still didn’t make it.

He already knows that he needs practice, but it’s just so frustrating to watch. When Mississippi State’s Trivante Bloodman made his first 3-pointer of the night and the Bulldogs took the lead. But Jamal Jones stole the ball and the Aggies made the basket. Dylan Johns did generate some enthusiasm when he started diving for the floor, pulling a “Caruso” move that the crowd loves to see.

The entire concept of “leave everything on the floor” is quite an anomaly. The crowd likes to see players slammed to the floor as they wrestle the opponent for possession and yet, what good does that do, to sprawl out in failed attempts to have handled the ball correctly in the first place?

Clearly, that concept is the stuff that distinguishes a newer observer, comparatively, to a longtime seasoned pro-watcher. Virtually every fan who played basketball in high school was coached by their grizzled mentors to not give up a basket, to fight to the finish, and to give it all they had and so similar play naturally resonates with the Aggie fans. But it’s also wasteful histrionics compared to first-tier, Division I basketball play that has a far higher shooting percentage accuracy and far more points scored in the first half of the game.

When Jordan Green, Alex Caruso, Kourtney Roberson and Davonte Fitzgerald came in to join Blake McDonald stayed in. McDonald has not seen notable playing time in the past years but he’s a decent point guard who doesn’t turn the ball over. It just seems he never gets enough minutes to get going and then the coach puts Caruso back in.

It was a solid crowd of 4,626 who gathered at Reed Arena, including one large contingency from the Aggie Corps of Cadets, and that’s a remarkable crowd, given the Aggie mens’ team record of being 13-9 and 4-5 in SEC play before tonight’s game. That crowd heaved a collective gasp when an Aggie player and a referee and the collision ended in a near-TKO when they knocked each other down onto the floor.

Then it was time for yet another combination of Aggie players: Caruso, Tavario Miller, Jordan Green, Fabyon Harris, and Jamal Jones. Fabyon made a fast break bucket smoothly on a Caruso pass. It almost appeared that the Aggies would manage to stay out of foul trouble, but at the 3:49 point, the Aggies had 6 to Mississippi State’s 2.

After the half, Kourtney Roberston, Jordan Green, Alex Caruso, Jamal Jones and Shawn Smith took the floor. That groupoing lasted 4 minutes but then it was time to bring Dylan, Davonte and Green back into the game. The point was likely due to wanting to rest a easily-tired Kourtney Roberson, but it was diversionary at least to watch the swinging door rotation.

In the second half, the Aggies were 5 for 5 on their field goals, and Dylan Johns made a basket, and the momentum looked good as the Ags got the Bulldogs rebound and had a chance for another bucket, but they gave up the ball again.

The score of 42-35 at 13:18 left was the largest lead the Aggies had all night. Mississippi State called time out.

At 9:45, Davonte Fitzgerald had his shot blooked when the Bulldogs came down and got the ball back, but Davonte raced down the court in time to block their shot, but, sadly the Aggies couldn’t convert. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s hustle and flow made the “Whataburger Whataplay of the Game.” Ironic, when the play of the game is just the matter of getting a blocked shot after your shot was blocked. Aggie fans have had to find any reason to raise the roof at Reed, and eventually the Aggies began playing to the crowd, having their confidence boosted.

At the 47-35 mark, the Hullabaloo band kicked into a rousing rendition of “Respect,” and there needs to be ever as much respect for the Hullabaloo band. When almost 60 students faithfully assemble in Reed Arena, in subzero weather, to play from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. for their team, they weren’t asking for respect; they were demanding it, for the Aggie men’s team.

Jamal Jones got the crowd going again with a 3-pointer with 6:10 left to make the score 52-37. Dylan Johns garnered a few fouls, but he was in the game, finally using his height to advantage all over the Bulldogs, showing every sign of good things to come.

The Aggies had contained the Bulldogs’ field goal shooting to 16.7% in the second half, down from 40.9% in the first half at this point in the game. As far as three-point shooting, the Aggies had only 2 at this point in the game, 1 from Jamal and 1 from Davonte Fitzgerald. But Jamal kicked into overdrive and got another 3 with 4:08 left, to make it 60-43. The crowd cheered with good reason to get into it. Shawn Smith stole the ball and more crowd approval came in. Then at 3:36, Jordan Green generously gave up a sure bucket and got the ball to Jamal because he was hot, and that gave Jones his fourth 3-pointer and brought his scoring total up to 20 points. With a subtle hammering of the air with his fist, not that overtly, Jamal was happy that he’d found his groove. Who was on fire? That guy!

Hullabaloo played “Soul Man,” because at last the Aggies played like they had their full hearts and souls into the game, into the team, and into believing in themselves. It’s hard to recover from consecutive losses on the road. Billy Kennedy is a quiet man, and you are not going to hear him make promises, but he is doing his level best to get this team to grow up quickly. Any group of young men who can bounce back after getting creamed on national television by Kentucky and by Florida is made of the right stuff.

The question is, are they a team? They have individual gifts and talents but the reason the team did well, or “better than this” last year was likely the maturity of Elston Turner, who had his best year ever, and Ray Turner, who didn’t have his best year but who had the maturity to encourage the younger members. This year, there’s one major leader on this Aggie team and it’s Jordan Green. Green is easily as talented in the classroom as he is out on the court. He takes everything seriously, and he’s 100% committed to trying his dead level best to get the team to perform as a unit.

The Aggies shot one of their best games this year, 47.1% of free throws, 50.0% of field goals, and still struggled with 3-pointers, at 33.3%. When you try 18 and only make 6, that’s desperation shooting. Mississippi State began stronger in 3-pointers with going 4-7 in the first half and then they fell apart in the second half, 4-12. The Aggie defense did contain them, though, as they wound up shooting only 37.5% from the field.

Jordan Green and Kourtney Roberson plus Jamal Jones were the standouts of this particular game. Jordan made a 3-pointer with 1:24 to go and that was the most satisfying play for all concerned. All the kids of Hullaballoo were thrilled when the score went to 70 on Tavario Miller’s bucket and the extra 2 points he picked up from a foul didn’t matter, because the score of 70 assured that all the people who came to Reed Arena would receive a card good for free chicken from local eaterie, Raising Cane’s.

That’s what Texas Aggie men’s basketball has come to at this point in the season...finding any reason whatsoever to cheer, even if it is just for the Hullabaloo band and the free chicken. One is a tremendous student group rehearsing by day and cheering by night and the other is emblematic of the offensive gumption of some of our star shooters who lack the confidence to get their buckets that they just keep passing the ball and passing the ball and, well, you know.

For the Aggie men, the next game is not easy; it’s a road trip to play the Georgia Bulldogs (another group of Bulldogs, oh great) for the top of the cellar in the SEC. One can only hope the outcome is in the +1 column for the Aggies. Time will tell.

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