Was it entropy or chaos that quantifies the matchup on Sat., Feb. 16 between the Texas A&M men’s basketball team and the Vanderbilt Commodores? The contest reached new heights in its lows, as the Ags scored 56 points to the Dores’ 63 points. Texas A&M should have walked into Nashville for their inaugural SEC play in Memorial Gym and said, “I got this.” All the Aggies lacked in walking out with a win was confidence, plain and simple. That, and the matter of ten 3-point Vandy plays that smoked the Aggies.
In Saturday’s road game, the game started out with really exciting play, starting with a 3-point shot from Alex Caruso, then Vandy’s Rod Odom answered with a 3-point miss, rebounded by Caruso and cashed into 2 by Fabyon Harris. Vandy’s Kevin Bright muffed a 3-pointer, and Ray Turner took charge with a 2 point dunk, on an assist by Alex Caruso, and then with the score tied, 7-7, Vandy called a 30-second timeout and the game was over. Or, it might as well have been.
For the Aggies in the rest of the first half, Elston missed a jump shot, Alex Caruso fouled; Elston turned the ball over, Alex Caruso fouled, and as Ray Turner missed a jumper, Josh Henderson started with his points off of fouls and Dai-Jon Parker began his 3-point tally on the scoreboard.
So, the first 20 mins of play, it was all about defensive play, Aggie turnovers, fouls, and mostly a group of missed shots by Elston, Ray, Jordan Green, and with 8 minutes to go in the first half, J’Mychal Reese managed a layup off an assist by Kourtney Roberson. The first half tally was Vandy leading the Aggies 25-21, shooting 9 for 23 field goals and only mustering one 3-point shot. Vandy wasn’t that much better, shooting 9 of 24, and they were sort of pathetic, though valiant, in trying 11 3-point shots, nabbing only 3.
Despite five lead changes and the six times the Aggies could tie the Commodores, the game all came down to Vandy getting 9 points off of Aggie turnovers, compared to 2 that Aggies could manage. Most of the time the Aggies were behind, managing only a 7 point lead in the first 3 minutes of the game before handing it to Vandy, who led by as many as 13 in the second part of the second half.
The Ags matched Vandy on 9 turnovers each, but the scoring “victory,” if you can call it that, came from the combined play of Vandy forward Rod Odom (19 points) and Dai-Jon Parker (17 points) in some of the best television-worthy showcase shooting, making 5 of 7 attempted 3-point plays and Odom going 4 for 9 from behind the arc. Guard Kedrin Johnson added one more for 10 total 3-point plays for Vandy, compared to 3 lowly 3’s out of 12 attempts.
Elston Turner, fresh from setting a Reed Arena record and career high 37 points against Ole Miss just 3 days’ prior, came up with almost “bupkis” on his 5 attempts from his usual “3-point home base.” Yet, Elston, was the leading scorer with 14 points, compared to Vandy star Rod Odom’s 19 points. Keep in mind when you’re trying to shoot with 2-3 people around you, no, you’re not going to get freed up easily. And being worn down on the court by defensive play, well, it just wears you down and can break your spirit and fight, especially when you might feel like you’re supposed to carry the whole team, and you can’t without some help from somewhere.
Kourtney Roberson had 8 rebounds to Rod Odom’s 7 (the same fellow who led scoring with 19 points); Alex Caruso had 4 assists and Caruso and Ray Turner shared a steal. One steal. Yes, they shared that stat. A&M had 7 bench points; Vandy had 20 points off the bench. Telling. A&M had 15 second-chance points, but the real substance is they missed 15 first-chance shots to have to go and try again. In summary, the game was over for the Aggies after they blew a 7-0 lead in the first 3 minutes of the game.
Was this the Aggies worst beating? Maybe. Probably. Surely, it was the most embarrassing, and it was where the rubber meets the road as the quasi-loyal group of Aggie fans has reached a point of walking into Reed with scowls and low expectations, so they won’t leave disappointed. The young Aggies are definitely not feeling the love, and their home play does nothing to change that. You cannot have 1 real shooter, 1 real guard, and 1 showcase shooter and win many games, SEC games or just by-the-way games.
Texas A&M wasn’t the only team with fans hoping, if not expecting, a win on Saturday. The Kentucky Wildcats may have been the only other SEC team that had a worse day “at the office.” After the Cats crashed and burned at the hands of Tennessee by 88-58, it marked the biggest loss that Calipari has ever coached during his UK career. The loss could not be blamed entirely on the fact that Nerlins Noel was out with a torn ACL. Calipari, as frustrated and angry as possible as he called some of his players “uncoachable.” Twitter went wild after hearing that proclamation, but the point Coach Cal makes is not only valid, it may well apply at Texas A&M as well.
Evidence of concern that some of the Aggies could be considered “uncoachable” was seen in the Ags’ last home game in the squeak-by win over Ole Miss, 69-67 on Feb. 13. Just like the home game vs. Missouri the week prior on Feb. 7, the 70-68 victory showed just how the Aggies are a second-half team, if they show up at all.
The home game against Kentucky that went into overtime and resulted in a loss 72-68 was another case in point. So were the wins over Army and Houston Baptist at home; armchair shooters would have pegged those two contests as “gimmes,” but such was not the case, not by a long shot. In fact, when unranked Southern came to Reed, we lost 51-53, another indication that the Aggies were just not getting it together.
Typically, the game works one of two ways: they come out and Elston gets a few threes and sets the pace, or the opponents send 2-3 people to guard Elston and the other Aggies futz around the entire first 20 minutes of the game. The variation on that play is when Alex Caruso gets really fired up and Fabyon Harris is allowed to drive the ball to the basket because if he can get near the paint, he’s usually “good for it” in the points. And he has an array of funky-looking but effective shots that puzzle the defense and entertain some otherwise lackluster observers and can get Reed’s ever-dwindling home crowd fired up.
Speaking of fired up, the team continues to look far too frequently to the crowd for inspiration. More than one time Ray Turner, Elston Turner, and a few others have raised their hands in the air, beseeching the crowd to get busy. Occasionally the czars of scoreboard wizardry (who take forever to catch up to individual player point totals) flash the graphic, “LET’S GET LOUD,” but it’s usually too late for that. Aside from “little screaming girl,” who sits in the Reed Rowdies section, no one else could sing “this guy is on fire” and have it be about the Aggies.
The team itself is loaded with potential, truly, in considering that the players came from somewhere, recruited by someone to do something at Aggieland, and having a team of great trainers, from strength to brains, available to them, and a dynamic practice gym to practice in, all elements for winning are in place, and have been for a long time. But when it is clutch time for the Aggies to make a decisive move on the court, they pass, pass, pass, almost turnover, recover, and either the ball gets outright stolen, or they just air-ball the pass to...absolutely no one.
Even if your shooting is in the cellar, each ballplayer wearing a uniform “should” be expected to hang on to the ball capably sufficient to decide a game. Despite the kinks in the chain, the missing links, the hitch in the git-along, based on whatever is said in the locker room by a Southern gentleman coach, who prefers to speak in terms of positives, rather than demeaning denigrations (some might say the “Coach Cal” way), the Aggies have usually been able to come out of the basement, literally and figuratively, and play their hearts out for 20 minutes to eek out a bare-minimum win. And it’s not pretty either.
That strategy didn’t work at all at Vandy last night but it still seems to be the mode the Ags are stuck in game after game. Maybe the Aggies should call on Dr. Wayne Dyer or Dr. Charles Stanley or even Dr. Phil to fix this. The good news is that with the high caliber of gentleman that Coach Billy Kennedy is, he’ll never mouth off that his players are uncoachable. The bad news is that some of them may very well be just that. Watch the full replay available at Aggieathletics.com after 11:30 CT today, and judge for yourself.
The next road game is Thurs., Feb. 20, at Auburn, beginning at 7 pm. The game will be televised on ESPN3.