Texas A&M basketball came away from their West coast and Canada road trip with three losses, but could there actually be optimism for the season?
The 2018-19 Texas A&M basketball season has gotten off to about as bad a start as it could. The Aggies are 1-4, which includes an embarrassing home loss to UC Irvine.
Things didn’t get better from there. They went to Spokane, Washington to have their butts handed to them in a loss to then No. 3 Gonzaga. That, in and of itself, isn’t all that surprising. Gonzaga just beat No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational final. But the two losses in Canada were incredibly frustrating to watch.
Minnesota had a comfortable lead for most of the matchup, but the Aggies kept fighting and battled back thanks to a terrific performance from Brandon Mahan. They turned a 10-point half time deficit into a 64-63 lead late behind some excellent defense and Mahan’s shooting. They were pushing the pace and getting good looks.
But despite holding Minnesota without a single field goal in the final four minutes, the Aggies went cold down the stretch themselves. Minnesota made free throws to get the lead back and keep it. T.J. Starks was awful in crunch time, missing two long threes after just standing around with the ball and also committed two turnovers. Mahan was the driving force behind the comeback and didn’t sniff the ball in the last couple of minutes.
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The Washington game went well for most of it until the Ags once again couldn’t score down the stretch. It was Billy Kennedy’s squad which led by double digits in the first half, but the defense couldn’t hold up and Washington eventually found their shooting touch. An 11-0 second-half run gave the Huskies a three-point lead they would not give back. The Aggies scored nine points in the final 12 minutes.
To anyone who has watched Kennedy’s teams, this is mostly par for the course. There isn’t much imagination to his offense and they often struggle to score points in half court sets, especially late in games, unless an Aggie beats his man straight up. There isn’t much movement, passing, or creativity.
Having said that, this normally pessimistic fan did find some reasons to be optimistic for the rest of the season. It seems almost impossible, I know.
Still, after losing to UC Irvine and Gonzaga, I expected A&M would fall down and get run off the court by Minnesota and Washington. That didn’t happen. They showed some fight, both in their ability to come back against Minnesota and in building a lead against Washington.
There were some good individual performances which came as a surprise as well. Jay Jay Chandler was the most notable with his best day in a maroon uniform. He finished the Washington game with 21 points, eight rebounds and two steals.
The aforementioned Mahan was big for Kennedy against Minnesota — he ended the night with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting (2-for-3 from downtown), four rebounds, and three steals. He wasn’t the only one ballin’ out for the Ags. Christian Mekowulu has been good on the defense end all season but contributed 16 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and one steal against Minnesota.
Josh Nebo was also very good in relief of Mekowulu — who got into foul trouble against Washington — as he chipped in nine points on 4-for-6 shooting and three rebounds.
The problem for this team is the good is canceled out by the bad too often. They can’t put it all together for a solid team performance.
As good as Mahan and Mekowulu were against Minnesota, Chandler, Starks and Savion Flagg combined to shoot 10-for-32 from the field. As good as Chandler was against Washington, he only shot 6-for-15 overall and had five turnovers. The second half against Washington was collectively abysmal from the offensive end.
One major component from these losses has been the absence of Admon Gilder. He’s the senior leader, the best shooter on the team and terrific on the defensive end. If he returns from his injury he will provide a boost to both sides of the court.
Plus, this is a mostly new cast of characters trying to figure each other out. Mekowulu, Mahan, Nebo and Wendell Mitchell are all transfers who didn’t play for the team last year. All four are getting good minutes (Mitchell missed the first three games due to injury).
As dismal as the start of the season has been, there’s still a chance they put it together when conference play begins. It may be a long shot, but if nothing else, they proved they won’t lie down and will fight until the bitter end. That’s about as much as we can ask for as fans.