For the second straight year, Buzz Williams and Texas A&M basketball are headed to the SEC championship game. The Aggies pulled out a 87-75 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores in which they never trailed, piling up points early and often on the way to a 49-25 halftime lead. Not only were the Ags defending at a high level in the first half, they were shot-making at a high level—not something this squad has done too often this year. Julius Marble was a revelation, spinning and hitting tough shots, muscling down in the post, and knocking down face-up jumpers. He hit 5 of his first 6 attempts, and the Commodores had no answer.
As halftime passed, however, you knew that Vandy would come out swinging. As I wrote this morning, the Commodores are squarely on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble at the moment, and needed to do everything in their power to make the committee give them a second look—a position very similar to that of last year’s Texas A&M basketball squad. Unlike last year’s Texas A&M basketball squad, however, Joe Lunardi proclaimed pregame that, were the Commodores to advance to the SEC final, he would have them in the tournament.
All this pressure was doubtless on the mind of Jerry Stackhouse’s squad as they began the second half with their hair on fire: picking up the Aggie ballhandlers full-court, defending aggressively, and hitting their shots. They eventually cut the A&M lead to a mere 12 points with around 13:30 to go.
And then Wade Taylor happened.
The all-SEC point guard erupted to put the Aggies back up by over 20 in an amazing one-man display. So impressive was this outburst that it had the announcers audibly wondering whether Taylor was the best point guard in the whole nation.
Even our greatest heroes need some rest, however, and when Taylor took his, the Commodores again began to press. They once again whittled the lead down to 11 this time, but that was as close as they would get. The Aggies played toughly and smartly, and capped off the game with a stepback midrange jumper from their defensive specialist Dexter Dennis.
Taylor closed the game as the leading scorer, notching yet another 25-point performance. Tyrece Radford—who hit a few big shots of his own—was next up with 16 points, followed by Marble’s 13.
Vanderbilt was no pushover. The Commodores had won 10 of their previous 11 games and were playing on what was tantamount to a home floor in Nashville. Not many teams have been playing better basketball over the past month and a half. But the Aggies are in that number.
Texas A&M basketball now advances to face the dreaded and feared Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. As I’m sure many remember, the Aggies knocked off the Tide in their only regular-season matchup at Reed Arena on March 5. Nate Oats’s squad will doubtless be hungry to avenge that loss and notch Oats’s first-ever win against A&M. Can the Aggies do it again with a championship on the line?
The Aggies will square off against Alabama tomorrow at noon on ESPN.