SEC Tournament Report: Aggies get back to what works

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Saturday, March 11, 2023
Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams reacts, Friday, March 10, 2023 during the second half of the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams reacts, Friday, March 10, 2023 during the second half of the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Texas A&M came into Friday night’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal game against the Arkansas Razorbacks leading the nation in free throws made and attempted per game with averages of 19.4 and 25.4.

But with less than three minutes left in the first half, the Aggies hadn’t attempted a free throw.

Sophomore guard Wade Taylor got to the line for the Aggies for the first time and hit two free throws with 2:24 left before halftime.

Texas A&M then got back to playing to its strength — drawing fouls and hitting free throws — to beat the Razorbacks 67-61 at Bridgestone Arena.

The Aggies hit 16 of 22 free throws in the second half and finished 18 of 24 to nearly hit their per-game averages.

Junior forward Henry Coleman hit 6 of 9 free throws for Texas A&M, Taylor hit 6 of 6 and senior guard Tyrece Radford hit 5 of 6.

“In the first half we weren’t getting defensive stops,” said Coleman, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. “You don’t get defensive stops, you can’t really play offense how you want to.”

The Aggies shot six free throws in the first 1:53 of the second half to regain their identity.

“Once we get stops, we’re able to play in transition,” Wade, who had 18 points, said of drawing fouls. “Easier to get to the paint and the rim.

“We tried to get inside to our big guys like Henry and Julius [Marble]. They were tremendous in our comeback, getting the fouls. We just converted at the line.”

The Razorbacks, called for six fouls the entire first half, were called for six in the second half before the Aggies were called for their first foul.

The Razorbacks finished with 20 fouls called against them, including 14 in the second half.

“Playing with great discipline and not reaching, trying to go vertical was a game plan that I thought we did a pretty good job in both halves,” University of Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought the first half it was physical on both ends of the floor.

“I mean, Texas A&M beat us. If you get down [6-0] in the foul count at any level — whether it’s CYO, college, the NBA — it affects your aggressiveness defensively, especially a team that shoots foul shots percentage-wise as well as Texas A&M has all season long.

“They’re a great free-throw shooting team and a great free-throw attempting. Certainly that affected because we did not want to put them on the foul line.

“They played a great second half, led by Taylor. I thought his second half was phenomenal. We had some guys not play great second halves. There goes the outcome.”

Blocks record

Arkansas had 11 blocked shots, including four each by senior forward Makhi Mitchell and freshman guard Anthony Black, for its most in an SEC Tournament game.

“I thought we did a phenomenal job blocking 11 shots,” Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought we did a really good job of protecting the rim.”

Buzzer beater

For the second time this season, an Arkansas-Texas A&M game featured a three-point basket to end the first half.

When the Aggies beat the Razorbacks 62-56 at College Station, Texas, on Feb. 15, Texas A&M junior guard Hayden Hefner hit a three-point at the first half buzzer to cut Arkansas’ halftime lead to 33-24.

Razorbacks freshman forward Jordan Walsh banked in a three-pointer Friday night to beat the halftime buzzer and give the Razorbacks a 38-25 lead.

Unlike the Aggies in the previous matchup, the Razorbacks weren’t able to turn their buzzer-beater into a momentum-changing play.

“We went into halftime talking about more on the positive side,” Texas A&M guard Wade Taylor said. “They hit a three at the buzzer off the glass. Can’t really control that.”

Board work

After Arkansas pounded Auburn 37-19 on the boards in beating the Tigers 76-73 on Thursday night, the Aggies out-rebounded the Razorbacks 43-26.

Texas A&M had 17 offensive rebounds and outscored Arkansas 15-9 on second-chance points.

“The biggest theme heading into the game was rebounding the basketball,” Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said. “Obviously 26 to 43, we did not rebound the ball.”

Aggies do it again

Texas A&M knocked Arkansas out of the SEC Tournament for the second consecutive season.

The Aggies beat the Razorbacks 82-64 in last season’s SEC Tournament semifinals in Tampa.

Texas A&M is 4-2 against Arkansas the last two seasons, but the Razorbacks have a commanding 106-62 in the all-time series.

Council struggles

Arkansas junior guard Ricky Council, who came into the SEC Tournament averaging a team-high 16.5 points, was held to 12 in two games.

Council, a second team All-SEC pick by the coaches and media, scored 7 points against Auburn, then had 5 on Friday night when he hit 1 of 7 shots.

Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said Council was impacted by being called for two fouls in the first half, which limited him to eight minutes. He played 24 minutes total.

“We need Ricky to carry [a heavy scoring load],” Musselman said. “He’s been our leading scorer all season long.

“Tonight, just the foul trouble I thought affected his aggressiveness.”

SEC Tournament record

Arkansas is 30-30 in SEC Tournament games after going 1-1 this year.

The Razorbacks’ lone SEC Tournament title was in 2000 when they won four games in four days — against Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Auburn — to earn the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid after being 15-14 at the end of the regular season.

George at the mic

The Razorbacks and their fans heard a familiar voice over the public address system at the SEC Tournament.

John George, the public address announcer at Arkansas men’s games the last 42 seasons, is serving in the same capacity at the SEC Tournament for the 17th consecutive year.

While George, 66, is naturally always enthusiastic for Arkansas at home games in Walton Arena, but as the SEC public address announcer he can’t appear to be favoring any team over the other.

Happy birthday … again

Something about the Razorbacks having 23rd birthdays and playing Texas A&M this season.

Arkansas senior forward Kamani Johnson turned 23 on Friday.

When the Razorbacks beat the Aggies 81-70 in Walton Arena on Jan. 31, it was the 23rd birthday for Arkansas senior forwards and twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell.

Bloody Moore

Auburn forward Chris Moore, a junior from West Memphis, had to leave the court in the first half of Thursday night’s game against Arkansas so he could receive treatment for a gash on his face, the SEC Network reported.

Some blood had to be cleaned from the court.

“I think the fact that he bleeds in games more than any player I’ve coached,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said when asked for his favorite Chris Moore story. “Just blood on the floor, man. He’s just a hard-playing dude, a great kid, great teammate.

“I tell you what, if you could just sort of get a picture of Chris Moore and say that is Auburn basketball, that represents Auburn basketball, I’d be OK with that.”


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