Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
Aggies try to deal with Gilder's loss
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy watches during a game against Arkansas on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Admon Gilder was supposed to be the senior leader for Texas A&M's basketball team this season.
Instead, Gilder, a 6-7 guard who has played in 98 games for the Aggies, is expected to miss the entire season.
Arkansas men at Texas A&M
WHEN 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
RECORDS Arkansas 9-3, 0-0 SEC; Texas A&M 6-5, 0-0
SERIES Arkansas leads 102-55
TV SEC Network
RADIO Razorback Sports Network
Before the season, Gilder was slowed by knee and hamstring injuries, then he was sidelined indefinitely with an unspecified health issue.
Gilder helped clear things up by announcing on social media two weeks ago that he has a blood clot in his right arm.
"I don't think we have one guy that can come in and give us what Admon does," said Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy, whose Aggies (6-5) play Arkansas (9-3) on Saturday in Reed Arena in the SEC opener for both teams. "He was our most consistent player offensively and defensively.
"We've just got to get more from everybody else."
Gilder averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals last season and would have been the Aggies' returning leader in each of those statistical categories.
"We've had to do it by committee losing an upperclassman, as well as a lot of guys from last year," Kennedy said. "We've got a new team and we're relying on some guys to give us more than they've ever done."
Gilder's loss means sophomore guard TJ Starks is the only Texas A&M player this season who was among the Aggies' top six scorers last season when they finished 22-13 and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.
The Aggies lost three 6-10 players in Robert Williams, a first-round NBA Draft pick by the Boston Celtics; Tyler Davis, who last week was waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder; and Tonny Trocha-Morales.
"It's totally different," Kennedy said. "We lost three guys 6-10 that were very good players. I wish I could say we replaced them, but we didn't."
Williams was expected to leave Texas A&M for the NBA after his sophomore season, but Davis' decision to keep his name in the draft -- he wasn't selected -- rather than return to the Aggies as a senior was a surprise.
Kennedy scrambled the fill the void inside with the addition of 6-9 Christian Mekowulu, a graduate transfer from Tennessee State where last season he averaged 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds.
This season Mekowulu is starting and averaging 11.0 points and 5.9 rebounds. Josh Nebo, a 6-9 junior who redshirted last season after transferring to Texas A&M from Saint Francis (Pa.), is averaging 7.7 points and 5.7 rebounds off the bench.
"Christian Mekowulu has been pretty good for us and Josh Nebo, but it's really their first year playing in the SEC and playing at this level," Kennedy said. "So we're really inexperienced with the guys that we lost."
Starks is averaging a team-high 13.5 points, but he has more turnovers (46) than assists (44) and is shooting 25.0 percent (15 of 60) on three-pointers.
"Early on, he put a lot of pressure on himself and he forced a lot of things in his shot selection and trying to do too much," Kennedy said. "I think more recently, he's gotten a lot more efficient and understanding how to play the point guard position, which has been new for him because he's more of a scoring guard. He's trying to be a little bit more efficient offensively and run the offense more than just thinking about scoring every possession."
Two sophomores who came off the bench for Texas A&M last season -- forward Savion Flagg and guard Jay Jay Chandler -- are starting. Flagg is averaging 12.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Chandler is averaging 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Junior college transfers Wendell Mitchell and Brandon Mahan -- both guards -- are averaging 8.8 and 8.2 points, respectively.
"We're trying to figure it out and continue to get better one day at a time," Kennedy said. "That's all we can do right now."
After the Aggies had a four-game losing streak against California-Irvine, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Washington, they bounced back with a five-game winning streak -- including victories over Oregon State and Marshall -- before losing at home to Texas Southern 88-73 on Saturday.
It was the third victory over an opponent from a Power 5 conference this season for the Tigers, who are coached by Johnny Jones, a former LSU coach.
Texas Southern, which won at Oregon 89-84 and Baylor 72-69, was led in scoring against Texas A&M by three former SEC players. Guard Jayln Patterson (LSU) scored 20 points; forward Jeremy Combs (LSU) had 15 points; and Trayvon Reed (Auburn) had 13 points, 11 and 5 blocked shots.
"We never want to lose at home, obviously," Kennedy said. "We're disappointed, but we did play a good team and they played extremely well. Probably had their best performance of the year, and they're a veteran team.
"I didn't think we played all that bad. We lost to a good team that was better than us on that particular day.
"We don't have a whole lot of time to sulk. We've just got to get ready for Arkansas."
Sports on 01/04/2019
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