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Texas A&M continues SEC win streak against South Carolina, 75-67

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When the evening comes and you can look into the first and second levels of your basketball arena and see a sea of uniforms belonging to the Corps of Cadets standing straight, tall and proud, then you know you are in Reed Arena, at home at Texas A&M, where the spirit of the 12th Man lives. The Aggie men’s basketball team could not help but feel the support by the attendance of 9,257 on Wed. Jan. 15. It was the highest home game attendance all year.

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Starters for the Aggies evening were Jordan Green, Fabyon Harris, Kourtney Roberson, Alex Caruso and Jamal Jones and for the Gamecocks, Sindarius Thornwell, Brenton Williams, Duane Notice, Demetrius Henry, and Mindaugus Kacinus were on deck.

The first minutes of the game was a defensive battle featuring five personal fouls, 3 for the Aggies and 2 for South Carolina, as the officials made it a point to be active in calling. Early on, South Carolina jumped out to a 10-2 lead, but turnovers were a large factor. Also, losing out on offensive rebounds characterized the first six minutes of play. The score was 14-3 when Davonte Fitzgerald did his pro-hop to get a basket for the Aggies, and then they got the ball back when SC traveled.

Both teams traded turnovers, again, and it looked like a lot of nerves out there on the court. Antwan Space got the ball into Kourtney Roberson to cut the lead to 7 points. At this point SC had 9 rebounds compared to 3 for the Aggies, and SC was shooting 50% of their field goals to the Aggies’ 33.3%. Roberson would top out at 4 points for the night and 3 rebounds, playing 29 minutes.

Davonte Fitzgerald got the Aggies first 3-point shot on an assist from Jordan Green, with almost 9 minutes to go, and the Gamecocks answered with a layup by SC’s Desmond Ringer, but the Aggies managed to cut the lead to 6 on an Antwan Space free throw, 1 for 2 on that attempt. Jamal Jones faked out SC with a look and found Alex Caruso, for his only 3-point shot of the night. Jordan Green made a smooth layup and the score was brought to within 3. In just 3 minutes’ time, the Aggies had improved to 50% shooting and answered South Carolina’s fast and furious charges up and down the court.

With Alex directing traffic on the floor, Shawn Smith added a key 3-pointer to cut the lead to 2, but South Carolina answered back. Jamal Jones rose to the challenge and hit another 3-pointer, bringing the Aggies’ deficit to just 1 point, 31-30 with 4:44 left in the half. There is no doubt that the crowd’s screaming and yelling had a major impact on the team morale, as they never let down—the team or the crowd.

Jamal’s shot and Davonte’s rebound tip in brought the Aggies into the lead with 4:13 left in the half. Shawn Smith fouled Duane Notice, who got both free throws, and the Aggies were back down by 1. Jamal Jones took an easy shot to put the Aggies in the lead but a foul by Fabyon Harris gave Duane Notice the go-ahead 2 points on free throw shots to put the Aggies back down in the hole.

With 1 minute to go, Caruso missed an attempted pro-style dunk by about two miles and South Carolina was still up by 3. Finally, Space made a power layup and drew a foul but barely missed the free throw. The score was still 37-36, favor SC. Alex Caruso missed two free throws but Shawn Smith made two more when he was fouled by Laimonas Chatkevicius. The first half closed out 39-38 favor South Carolina.

Really, it was a miracle that the Aggies were only down by 1 at the half, considering that South Carolina had outrebounded them 20-10 and the Aggies were 10 of 17 on free throw attempts, while South Carolina was 8 for 9 of their tries. South Carolina also had 12 second-chance points to the Aggies’ 8 and that was another factor where there was definitely room for improvement.

Jordan Green free throw off of Sindarius Thornwell’s foul. Demetrius Henry stole the ball from Fabyon Harris and dunked the ball successfully. The Aggies found themselves ahead 45-39 just 2 minutes into the second half. SC Coach Frank Martin was frustrated with his players, holding his head in his hands and cupping his mouth to yell onto the court when his players were not paying attention. Finally, Sindarius Thornwell had back-to-back fouls, and the Aggies hit another 3, courtesy of Jamal Jones. Plus, Davonte Fitzgerald got a put-back layup, and brought the score to within 5 again, 47-43.

You couldn’t help but wonder at this point how many of those plays you wish you could have had back again. The biggest issue at this point in “sloppy play” was that the Gamecocks were shooting 83.3% of their field goals to the Aggies’ 50%. And, as of this point in the game, SC had been 8 of 9 of their free throws and the Aggies had been 12 of 21, just enough to give the Aggies a 4-point lead, had they been made. At the 11:54 mark, you started keeping track of missed opportunities and realized that had the Aggies been perfect on their free throws, they’d have been up by 8 points. Meanwhile, South Carolina was 11-13 on their free throws. It was time to turn the game around, and grab a decisive lead instead of trading baskets.

Finally, the Aggies got aggressive rebounding and in free throw shooting and Shawn Smith’s free throw brought the Aggies back to 52-51. He was then instrumental in turning the momentum around as he stole the ball and gently tapped in a layup. Even though South Carolina answered back, the Aggies were more aggressive this time, particularly as led by Antwan Space, who has been effective in so many ways when he comes in off the bench.

Jamal Jones’ first free throw tied the game at 57 and his next shot put the Aggies up by 1, and the crowd was reacting to the “AAAAAA” (pronounced “ayyyyyy, like the Fonz would do, only with a southern flair!), flashing on the banner graphics and raising the roof noise level in Reed in response. The Gamecocks had to give up the ball with a shot clock violation and the Aggies got down to the last second when Shawn Smith hit his second 3 of the game, and yelled “Let’s go!” to put the Aggies up by 4, 61-57 with 5:44 left to go. The crowd roared its approval.

South Carolina had a basket, but it didn’t matter when Jamal Jones got his next 3-point shot and the Aggies went up by 5 with 4:25 to go. Shawn Smith picked up his fourth foul, and South Carolina picked up a 3-pointer by Brenton Walker. Alex Caruso would have none of that and made an assist for Kourtney Roberson’s layup. Jamal Jones then grabbed a South Carolina rebound to give the Aggies back the ball with 3 minutes to go. Jordan Green made it close to the basket but Antwan Space finished off the bucket to make it 68-62 Aggies with 2:50 to go. The crowd was going wild with each Aggie score.

The Hullaballoo band was instrumental as they had been all night long in keeping the fans in the game during each time out and whenever they could make noise on the sidelines. Finally Thornwell picked up his fifth foul and Jamal Jones one of two critical free throws to bring the Aggies up 69-62 with 2:14 left. Space picked up the rebound off the SC second failed free throw shot and the Aggies started trying to run out the clock. Antwan Space missed the next two free throw attempts off a deadball foul, and the Aggies managed to get the ball back after SC missed and managed to foul Jordan Green.

Green made his first free throw and the crowd went wild and then he got his second free throw to guarantee all the Aggies would get free chicken fingers from Raising Cane. With the score 71-65, off of two free throws made by SC, there were still 1:22 minutes left to play. Not one Aggie left Reed Arena, the excitement was so powerful. At last, it looked like the Aggies had every making of being considered a basketball school.

The Aggies were wearing down the clock when Jordan Green made an impossible bucket using his version of Davonte Fitzgerald’s pro-hop move, and the crowd went nuts again. The margin moved to 73-65, and Green picked up a foul by SC’s McKie, but missed the extra point. Jamal Jones got the ball but Caruso turned it over, again, and put the Gamecocks back at the free throw line. Of course it was their leading scorer, Brenton Williams, who was perfect on both attempts but fortunately the shot clock was in the Ags’ favor.

When the ball was inbounded with 33.3 seconds to go, Antwan Space was fouled and missed his first free throw but made the second one. Then, their Laimonas Chatkevicius missed a 3-pointer and the Aggies’ Shawn Smith grabbed the rebound, airballed and the Aggies had the deadball rebound with 20.4 seconds to go. SC’s Jaylen Shaw fouled Shawn Smith again, and sent him to the line; he missed the first but made the second free throw.

The Ags fought underneath the basket on the Gamecocks last two possessions. Duane Notice missed a three-pointer, but Chatkevicius’s rebound gave the Gamecocks one last chance. Brenton Williams missed the 3 and as Antwan Space grabbed the rebound, the clockran out with the score, Aggies over South Carolina, 75-67.

Keys to the Aggie win were containing Sindarius Thornwell. He’d just been named SEC Freshman of the Week, and SEC records supplied showed that he’d averaged 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists against Florida (#10) and LSU. Thornwell had hit his season-high 25 points against LSU just two days earlier. Against the Aggies’ defense, Thornwell was held to 2 of 7 shooting and he fouled out with only 5 total points. That’s good ball play on the Aggies’ part.

Overall, the two teams were about even in field goal shooting (Aggies 55.0% to SC’s 46.9%) but the Aggies had two more 3-point shots than SC. Once again, Jamal Jones led the team with 3 and Mr. Electricity (Shawn Smith) added 2, then Davonte Fitzgerald and Alex Caruso each added 1.

It was a true, tough SEC battle, as the score was tied four times and the lead changed six times. But in the end, it was the Aggies’ newest guys who pulled out this win for their team when it comes to shooting, as Jamal Jones (21), Davonte Fitzgerald (13) and Shawn Smith (13) combined for 47 of the Aggies 68 points.

Caruso continues his defensive play and had 7 assists and 2 blocks, but he also led with 4 turnovers as he just plays too fast for his own good sometimes. At the end of the day, though, Caruso’s consistent in his passion for his team to win, and assures the team will never give up if they fall behind.

So, how was it that the Aggies masterminded a win tonight? A never-say-die attitude, strong shooting from the newest members of the team, patience and calm from Coach Kennedy and the sidelines, and the crowd of 9,257, many of whom were members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets.

Commentary: One major error on the part of the A&M men’s basketball team, once again, was to send Assistant Coach Kyle Keller back to the Aggie network broadcast table for the postgame wrapup. Nothing is a bigger buzzkill to be listening to the excitement of Dave South and Al Pulliam as they root for the Aggies to win, shot by shot, via the Zone radio, only to have Coach Keller say, again, in case you missed his postgame interview two games prior, that “this team just doesn’t play pretty,” and “we missed a lot of opportunities” and just every negative thing you can think of. The automaton-like delivery of unstellar commentary makes you almost forget that the Aggies had won both games.

Keller did manage to come up with a monotonic reference to the crowd, and the Aggie Corps of Cadets and say how it was great they were there. Gee thanks, Coach. The Aggies won a tough basketball game. You can play “real pretty” and lose by a mile. Instead, the Aggies did what the t-shirt slogan says, “I gave everything I had and left it on the court.”

In the Aggie win, some statistics that Coach Keller could be called on to cite, rather than his doom-and-gloom pondering of how we barely won, despite winning, he might try:

Jamal Jones had 19 field goal attempts at Tennessee 1/11/14, and he made 5 of 10 of his three-point shots at Tennessee 1/11/14 for 50% accuracy, so it’s safe to say he’s a shooting threat. He continued his abilities, as the leading scorer of the game, with 21 points on 5 field goals, 3 three-pointers and 8 of 10 free throws. Alex Caruso had 11 assists against Arkansas 1/8/14 and added 7 more against South Carolina, which keeps Texas A&M second in the SEC in that area.

With the victory over South Carolina in a close game, The Aggies are now 3-0 in SEC play still tied with Florida in staying undefeated in SEC play. The Aggies won, Coach Keller, so please find a way to join in the unbridled enthusiasm shown by Dave South and Al Pulliam throughout their broadcasts and post-game show. Attitude is key to this young team continuing their pursuit of wins.

This year, the Aggies are not seasoned veterans contemplating their future pro careers, and they deserve more respect than to have to have parents and friends listening in on the radio only to hear “we’re just not that good” from an assistant coach. Future recruits who can’t be here in person also listen on the radio. Aggies won. Aggies won. Aggies won. See you next game in person at Reed Arena; the 12th Man does make a difference, student, faculty and community together.

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