Elston Turner set a new home game career-high 37 points that was also a new Reed Arena record, Wed. Feb. 13 in College Station, in a shooting display that brought the Aggies to their feet time and again, among a crowd of 5,377, who assembled, some reluctantly even, to support their team. Not many in the audience were expecting much of a game against Ole Miss, even though it was a first-time meeting for the two teams, with the Aggies new to SEC play this year. That the Aggies beat Ole Miss, 69-67 was a miracle, given the way they played all night long.
With the exception of Elston Turner and Fabyon Harris, there was no offense. There were lots of rebounds, but really, many of them were offensive rebounds when the Aggies missed shot after shot after stupid shot because they were trying to dunk, with no one to guard them, and they missed easy points time and again.
The Texas Aggies men’s basketball team is not the pay-to-see-special Globetrotters. Trick shots or attempted dunks that don’t work are unforgiveable because games are lost as a result of the failure to put the ball through the net. Ole Miss tied the Aggies 8 times and the lead changed 9 times, and when the play against an unranked team, mind you, is that close, there is no excuse for some of the shots the players missed last night.
Part of the lackluster play could be that not many folks were in the audience to support their team, but the rest can be chalked up to lazy play, overconfident “hot dog” shooting, and, in general, the failure to play together in the spirit of team. After the game, Elston Turner graciously gave credit to his teammates for “trying to get him the ball,” and much was said about his taking it upon himself to improve his own shooting with post-required time practice but frankly, where were his teammates in the gym shooting along with him, more than they have to? How badly do the Aggies want to win a game? Last night’s play showed “not that much.”
Alex Caruso is clearly the one player who won’t give up no matter how the team is playing. And though he only had 4 points, he played his heart out for 27 minutes and he was “rewarded” with 5 personal fouls, at least 3 of which the crowd did not agree that he deserved. The crowd, in fact, was on their feet a lot because of Elston Turner’s record-high 37 points, 13 of 20 field goals, 7 of 10 3-point shots, and 4-6 free throws, with 2 defensive rebounds. Fabyon Harris had 13 points and was 1-4 on his 3-point shots, and only 5 of 15 from the field, but made 2 free throws. And that pretty much was the Aggie offense.
The Aggies theoretically fought hard under the basket but the reality is that they were fighting to get their own ball back after missing easy shots. It appeared to be 7 single attempts by the Aggies to get one bucket to go in off the original shot and yet, the Aggies came up with a goose egg for all that wrestling and maneuvering, truly embarrassing to see. Many Aggies got to their feet, all right, and left at halftime. This was a school who used to disparage anyone who left as a “2%-er.” Those days are in the rearview mirror, gone with the wind of the Big 12 and the Southwest Conference, ancient history.
Just Monday night on the Wings N’ More radio broadcast, A&M Athletic Department Special Events Director Steve Miller commented that “Aggies don’t boo. Aggie crowds don’t boo.” And for years, the Aggie tradition has always been the “horse laugh” and chant “Riffity, riffity, rif raf, let’s give ‘em a horse laugh” and a deflating balloon sound, “Sssss” as their longtime means of disagreement with the referees. But no one got the memo on that last night, as “booo, boooo, booooooo,” and “pull your head out, ref, call the game right” was heard, and heard, and heard again.
The primary reason many longtime season ticket holders came to their feet was, arguably, the questionable calls made by the evening’s referees: Anthony Jordan, Mike Nance, and Terry Moore. Looking at their statistics, Moore averages calling 36.9 fouls per game in 34 games in the 2012-2013 season. Mike Nance averages blowing the whistle on 38.6 fouls in 44 games in the same time period. And, in 50 games so far this year, Anthony Jordan has logged 33.4 fouls per game. Three whistles were busy last night, in record-setting style but just as importantly, the Aggie fans were furious that more calls were not made, against Ole Miss. Time and again, the crowd jumped to their feet to protest the lack of a foul called.
Kourtney “Rebound” Roberson fouled out, Ray Turner and Alex Caruso each got into foul trouble with 4 each, and Andrew Young snagged 3 for his 17 minutes of play, though he moved up and down the court fast enough. Fabyon Harris escaped unscathed and J’Mychal Reese only managed 1 foul in 16 minutes of play, but then again, he only scored 2 points. Now, as to game play, fouls called, officiating in general and game momentum, those are all simply technical variables to consider in examining the game the day after, the way all the “armchair players” do.
But last night’s officiating was something that more than a few Aggie fans took exception to, as evidenced by season ticket holders and even distinguished engineering professors who are representing the SEC as a scholarly speaker, jumping to their feet, gyrating with their hands and yelling loud, long, lasting insults toward the fellows in the striped shirts, pleading for the referees to call fouls against Ole Miss.
Biased opinion perhaps, but in games where fouls lead to possession turnovers, points at the line, and momentum changes, there’s every reason to give weight to the crowd’s opinion, particularly when “boos” were coming from just about every section of Reed. Even the crowd-regular young “junior screamer” in the Reed Rowdies section was quieter than usual.
Folks jumping to their feet and waving their arms wildly (and that was not the part of the night where the crowd was supposed to attempt the Harlem Shuffle), could potentially have almost stacked up local emergency rooms (where there was only 4 minutes’ waiting time last night). Bulging veins on necks of those screaming don’t look pretty, nor is it truly good sportsmanship but frankly, the crowd was beyond frustrated, and justifiably so—all night long.
The referees appeared to those in the stands watching to be biased in behalf of Ole Miss. The numbers in the box scores don’t necessarily reflect that, as Ole Miss had 14 personal fouls called on their players, with their star shooter Marshall Henderson fouling out of the game, and yet, none of their other players had more than 2 fouls, 1 foul, or 0 fouls for the entire game. It was a true case of “all or nothing at all.”
It was ironic that joy over Elston “Instant Offense” Turner’s spectacular shooting could be overshadowed by anything, much less such deep feelings of resentment, anger, and outrage as expressed across Reed Arena. Possibly some of the anger was left-over disgust and frustration for the team’s play thus far this season and it just took the referee calls to come out.
Evidence to support that hypothesis would be the last few games broadcast on television, which left more questions than answers in the minds of Aggie fans who wondered just how passionate the men’s basketball team was about winning.
It was hard to determine who was least passionate about last night’s game, with the exception of Elston Turner and Fabyon Harris (who you can always count on to bring energy), as time and again missed “hot dog” shots found the Aggies without points, time and again, that would have delivered a victory by a much larger margin, rather than simply by the skin of their teeth. Ole Miss led at halftime, 38-35.
Watching the game in person last night, you might reasonably still have that same question in mind. The Aggies started the first half of the game somewhat “on fire,” as Elston Turner had been perfect, 7 of 7 field goals, 4 of 4 on his 3-point shots and garnering 22 points in 19 minutes of play. In fact, the first 3 minutes of the game, the only points on the board were Elston’s. Ray Turner's play was strong and he fought hard, very hard, but fouls and missed shots didn't produce the numbers he deserved commensurate with his spirit and effort.
Overall, the game was disappointing if you don't count Elston "#31" setting a record at Reed (and making his Aggies and his dad proud, as Elston Sr. was a college star at Ole Miss, who went on to play in the NBA for 8 seasons). The contest still came down to the last minute of regulation play that, with fouls, lasted 5 minutes, and it just as easily could have been a tie ball game into overtime as it was a narrow margin win.
Aggie fans are never supposed to give up hope, to always say they’re outscored rather than beaten, and to never diss on their own players, but if the Aggies expect to get an NIT invitation, the way it’s being mumbled about, if the Aggies can win the next games on the road, then a bunch of players other than Elston Turner, Jr. better spend some of their own time in the gym working on their shooting, their passing (Ole Miss far outshined the Aggies in that area, with fancy jump-up and pass shots), and most of all, their cohesiveness as a team.
Aside from the starters, five other players saw game time last night. The reality is that the game was the Aggies’ to loose, and they almost did. Coach Billy Kennedy did not inherit a galaxy of stars to shape into a team, and there’s no question in anyone’s mind that he and Coach Glynn Cyprien are winners, who know how to win, but the players must begin to listen to the coaches. Virtually every coach and staffer was jumping up to point out things that were obvious (to them) for the players to do, it's a sure sign that the players were not paying attention. When 3 Aggie coaches are on their feet at the same time, each holding up 3 fingers, at the same time, that is a play being called, and it apparently must require all 3 of them to try to catch the eye of one player. That's not good basketball play and less fun to watch.
In true Aggie spirit, there is always hope, but the next game will either be the beginning of the end of the season, or a renewal for the Aggies. Elston Turner did everything he could to bring the team out of a slump. Fabyon Harris added speed (sometimes he’s faster than his own feet, slipping all over the court), and Alex Caruso will always take home the “most passionate player (and smartest) award, but is it enough to win the remaining games? Time will tell. It very well can be.
Perhaps some more Aggie fans need to learn the horse laughs, and leave the boos and the constant maligning of the referees, even if they believe it's deserved, to the teams who specialize in making a statement in the stands when nothing is happening on the court. And if that doesn't work, give them the horse laugh; that's the Aggie way.