It was a slam-dunk, after the University of Missouri’s Alex Oriakhi's opening shot, one of five on the night, that the No. 11 seed Aggies were going home, as the quarterfinals game against the Missouri Tigers showed the Aggies to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena loading dock to pack up and go home, on Thursday, Mar. 14. Not many among the Aggie faithful expected them to even beat Auburn on Wednesday night. Given the inconsistencies in play by kids full of potential, all season long, the end of the ride was inevitable last night. In front of 11,798 people in Nashville, the Aggies simply blew four quarters of play and ended their SEC tournament hopes in Music City, USA, 62-50.
Even the best forensic scientists would have trouble getting to the bottom of “why” the Aggies fumbled, stumbled, and literally fell apart at the SEC tournament, when presented with the chance to play the same team they’d beaten five weeks ago at home by the score of 70-68. After all, it was the same teams playing, but the Aggies had sustained even more losses against “big name teams” in those same five weeks: Georgia, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas while Mizzou just got better.
The Aggie men’s basketball team has struggled against unseen barriers to play as a team since November 2012, losing even sure-win home games to unranked teams this season. Although home games brought a large, faithful crowd to Reed Arena the past four months, the Aggies have fumbled, stumbled, and just plain missed wide open shots, tossed the ball out of bounds, refused to rebound, and tried so many stupid hot-dog shots, and missed, that the record of 18-15 overall, 7-11 in the SEC and a 12-6 record at Reed is, indeed, nothing to write home about. No doubt this morning the Aggies awoke to the worst feeling of the season, and your heart goes out to them, but their debut year in the SEC brought with it a legion of fans with high hopes and great expectations.
It’s easy for those who’ve never logged a moment’s playing time on the court against real teams under real pressure to point fingers and criticize, but it’s hard not to, after you’ve watched every game in person or on television all season long. Freshman Alex Caruso was distinguished and identified as exemplary all year long by many, including radio commentator and coaching icon, Bobby Knight, talking about what Alex brought to this team this year, and being “one to watch for the future.”
Sadly, the Ags have only one more year with the team’s other spark plug, junior transfer Fabyon Harris, from Chicago, who brought a love for the game to the court. Fabyon refused to give up, no matter how much they were behind or how tired they were. And sometimes, simply because Harris was lightning-fast and many times 3-point-shot-sure, the Aggies would win. The next most highlighted player was walk-on Jarod Jahns, who Coach Billy Kennedy would say, on his radio show, saw a lot of playing time “because when he’s in there, I know he’s not going to make a lot of mistakes.” Ouch. Truth hurts.
There’s every reason to say that the Aggies simply could not “play smart, play hard, and play together” this year. Too many missed shots, muffed shots, poor ball passing, and plain old fear of failure in taking shots, moving and moving and moving again to try to get into position rather than simply taking the shot. Or, there was the occasional run to shoot the ball, unwisely, out of position, coupled with the making of so many fouls that the best players had to ride the bench sooner than they wanted. Last night’s final Aggie points were made by Blake McDonald and Grant Jolly, on free throws, begging some to ask why they were not seeing playing time sooner, since they seemed to be able to make some baskets.
The Aggies did not lack for “big men” all year long, and yet teams with far less of a height advantage cleaned their clocks. There is something substantively wrong when your roster includes: Andrew Young (6’8”), Jordan Green (6’5”), Kourtney Roberson (6’9”), Ray Turner (6’9”), Jarod Jahns (6’6”), Elston Turner (6’5”) and Alex Caruso (6’5”) and you can’t do better than 18-15. It does not make sense.
Highlights of Alex Oriakhi’s dunks, on a double-double night for the Tigers, are seen in the accompanying video. None of the stunned Aggies could defend against No. 42’s athleticism. The Aggies’ No. 31, Elston Turner, gave the home crowd something similar to cheer about in their season-shocker surprise victory over the University of Kentucky, which blew the Cats’ home-game record to smithereens, as Elston pulled down 40 points so many on 3-point bullets.
That same week Elston was named the National Player of the Week by ESPN. That’s about the best memory of the 2012-2013 season for the Aggies. After the bone in his left pinky finger heals, Elston Turner is a likely candidate to go to the NBA, where he’ll undoubtedly succeed. All season long, Elston has shown he’s an intelligent, generous, talented player with a never-say-die spirit. He can make a major contribution surrounded by teammates who match his caliber.
As for the future of Texas A&M men’s basketball next year, only the experts know what it is going to take to create winners out of losers. The Aggies always have hope, but you don’t need to make a space for hope in the trophy case. It’s already full of that. Good luck to Mizzou as they travel forward in the SEC tourney tonight against Ole Miss. The Tigers are in their first year in the SEC too, with just a different attitude and outcome.
There’s no March Madness ahead for Texas A&M. After last night, there’s only “mad” left on the arena floor. As the local paper was quick to feature across their sports pages, Texas A&M’s SEC baseball season begins tonight against the Georgia Bulldogs. And as former Aggie men’s basketball coach Shelby Metcalf would be quick to say, after a lackluster season, “batter up, Ags!”