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Texas A&M men’s basketball ends shooting slump, beats UT Pan American, 63-46

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Out with the old year, in with the new, or so the Texas Aggie men’s basketball team hopes. On Sat. Jan. 4, the Aggie men’s basketball team decided to give it the good old college try against the University of Texas Pan American. They had to mentally refocus their own opinions of themselves, because after the last game they played their best bet was to begin the game with a 0-0 slate in mind, with the only place to go being up.

It’s hard to diagnose what has been going on with the team all year long, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what the players thought of one another as a team and of themselves, full of potential and not being able to bring themselves to act on it.

This was the fifth time the Aggies and UTPA Broncs have faced off; the most recent time was in 2001. UTPA came in with a 4-11 record and the Aggies were 8-4, but the Broncos’ seven consecutive losses were equivalent to the Aggies’ disadvantage of low morale after having posted a 41-61 loss to North Texas, which was also seen on television. Today’s game was then considered do-or-die for the Aggies’ future, even though a single SEC game has yet to be played.

In the first half there were glimpses of brilliance. Two opening 3-point shots by Jamal Jones and Fabyon Harris gave the crowd of 5,278 something to cheer about. Kourtney Roberson just seemed to struggle underneath the basket shooting but he grabbed 5 defensive rebounds, and 3 offensive ones in the half. He missed two easy layups shots tried, though, and he’s the largest guy the Aggies had in there.

In the postgame press conference, Coach Billy Kennedy shared:

Obviously, it is good to get back into the win column, I thought we started the game off well and attacked the zone moving the ball being aggressive making some early shots. I thought Shawn Smith and Davonte Fitzgerald, two freshmen, came in and gave us some good minutes. Alex (Caruso) continues to share the ball and he had an outstanding game.

It’s frustrating to watch as Roberson is the team’s best shooter, generally making 61.8% of his field goals (from under the basket), and he’s 67.3% for his free throws. Yet, it seems that he’s really in there more to rebound than to shoot, and he averages almost 8 per game. To come up with no scoring points all first half is not typical Roberson style and then to have 0 points the second half of the game—this is no way to win in the SEC, or to recruit other players to come here.

Alex Caruso was almost perfect, 4 of 4 field goals, 1 of 1 on 3-point shots and only missed 1 field goal, and led the team with 9 points, 2 rebounds and his usual assists, with 5. The rest of the team was hit or miss, with Fabyon Harris managing 8 points off of 8 field goal and 7 3-point attempts.

Jamal Jones clearly put too much pressure on himself to try and repeat his record 3-point shots in previous games, and it’s not working for him. Since the team lost a player recently, Jones has become the Ags’ leading 3-point scorer and has tried 61 of them so far in the season before today. Yet, in the first half of the game, Jamal was only 1 of 6.

Jordan Green has been the second-best shooter on the team, with 57.8 of his field goal attempts, and his determination to try and lead this team shines through with the intensity of his play. And yet, the Aggies are working without a true point guard so far. That’s nothing new, because they played without one for the first six games of the sesaon, but clearly someone is going to have to step up and guide the team.

In the second half, the shooting was not really much better, but the intensity with which Jamal Jones and Shawn Smith played was really helpful. Smith showed early season excellence but had not seen much playing time since until today. Chances are good we’re going to see a lot more of the shooter I’d previously dubbed “Mr. Excitement” because of his speed and enthusiasm in simply playing for the love of the game.

Said Kennedy, “Shawn (Smith) really busted out with the ball and Jamal (Jones) really ran the floor well getting us an easy basket. That really jump started us tonight and we need more plays like that to lead to easy baskets. Those are the kind of plays we have not been getting the last couple games.”

Fabyon Harris is a fireball, at times, but he also has trouble putting the breaks on when he’s scrambling for the ball and he managed his fourth foul with 2 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kennedy shared that again, Harris, and Shawn Smith were key to ehte Aggies 17-3 run that ended the game:

“We got some transition baskets with Fabyon (Harris) and Shawn (Smith) pushing the ball in transition. They started to press themselves taking some quick shots.”

Kennedy also commented freshman Davonte Fitzgerald for good play and noted “Alex Caruso continues to share the ball and he had an outstanding game.”

Really in the last 8 minutes of the game, the Aggies stepped up their pace and pulled the score advantage their direction, but it was not like it was a blowout. Blake McDonald came in for Caruso with less than a minute to go, and yet you hope McDonald will see more playing time because he can hold onto the ball and has a lot of spirit when he plays.

The Aggies have to overcome fears and doubts in their mental game to overcome whatever was dragging them down in 2013. Easy to write, but harder to accomplish. Team leaders must continue to emerge in game play and right now Caruso shows unending heart and enthusiastic style all his own, and Jones, Fitzgerald, Harris and Smith are gelling as a combination who can play to each others’ strengths.

The variable that will mean the difference between cellar and championship is in the play of Kourtney Roberson. This young man has all the potential in the world to be a true anchor and strength for the Aggies as they now have to get serious and play unforgiving SEC opponents.

The Aggies open SEC play against longtime rival Arkansas on Wed., Jan. 8, 2014 at Reed Arena. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.

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