The t-shirts were white, the crowd bled maroon and the noise was deafening as a crowd of 12,029 basketball fans gathered at Reed Arena, starting as early as 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 20, in preparation for ESPN Game Day and for the matchup of the year against the University of Kentucky. The Aggies prevailed after one overtime, by the score of 79–77.
One of the team’s most valuable players had to be Von Miller, the standout Aggie football player and this year’s NFL championship game MVP of the Super Bowl. Miller cheered on the Aggie men’s basketball team and high-fived each player on their way onto the floor of Reed Arena as “the” Kentucky Wildcats arrived en masse to try and show up the young SEC whippersnapper Aggies, who they assumed didn’t have much gas left in the tank after dropping off the AP Top 25 unceremoniously after having been at No. 5 at one point earlier in the season.
The Aggie men fought the entire 40 minutes, and 5 more, and maintained sufficient excellent defensive play, managing to tie the score 12 times and if you were keeping track, the lead changed 29 times, twenty-nine times. Aggie fans were loud, demonstrative, and engaged as this team has deserved all season long. Playing Kentucky at home and the promise of ESPN prime-time broadcasts are not the only reason to have a sold-out crowd.
In fact, many of the Aggies’ most faithful fans were seated at the very top of Reed Arena, last row, in the nosebleed section because many of the community folks have just caught on to the fact that Texas A&M is indeed a basketball school, too, even if the university’s highest administrators never seem to manage to find their way across the tracks to do what prior university presidents and regents and even Texas governors used to do, e.g., show up and cheer for their teams.
There’s no one player on the Aggies’ team to single out as much as it was all about the “team” who deserves every accolade that can be afforded them. The same starting combination of Anthony Collins, Alex Caruso, Tyler Davis, Danuel House, and Jalen Jones opened for the 13th time this season and they proceeded to hold Kentucky to 50% of their field goals for the game and the Wildcats only got 10 of their 20 three-point attempts.
Jalen Jones has managed to shake off the stigma of constantly being thrown into the spotlight by the heavy mantle of being nominated for multiple national awards. The hype that players have to deal with during the season and the constant media attention on every single shot, win or lose, and he’s back to just playing his game. Jones had 8 rebounds, 7 on the defensive side, and 2 key steals. Anthony Collins played great defense so don’t be fooled by his 2 points; he had 8 assists, 1 block and 1 steal.
In addition to the buzzer-beater, Tyler Davis had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and showed years’ worth of calm as he was a key player. Alex Caruso showed unselfish play and Danuel House was “Mr. Free Throw” going 4 of 4 and getting 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. DJ Hogg’s two 3-point shots came at key times, and he brought out 10 points in just 20 minutes of play. Tonny Trocha-Morelos continues to be a solid performer off the bench, grabbing 6 rebounds, shooting 100% with 2 field goals, one 3-pointer and 2 of 2 free throws, with 3 assists in his 14 minutes.
The Aggies won the game, despite 38.9% overall shooting because they never gave up. They tried 24 3-point shots, and only made 9, and it’s really something to think that they made 28 of 72 field goal attempts, but they went 14 of 24 on their free throws, too, and the clutch baskets came in those points. As time expired in the overtime, it was freshman Tyler Davis who was the man to put back the shot before the buzzer went off, and even the referees double checked to certify it was indeed “just in time.” The Wildcats were first to begin handshakes with the Aggies as they didn’t need the referees to tell them it was over.
What was heartening to see, aside from Calipari’s representing the University of Kentucky poor sports association, was the Kentucky Wildcat players actually taking time to hug warmly or look the Aggies in their eyes as they shook hands or high fived. The contest was contentious but played full out, heartfelt with enthusiasm, and the game could have gone either way, all night long.
Coach Billy Kennedy continues to be the “Gallant” of the duo featured in the old Highlights Magazine “Goofus and Gallant” characters. Kennedy, a true gentleman on the sidelines as well as in real life, sets the tone for his players to exhibit during game play and off-court as well. As for Goofus, well if you have to ask, then you have to rewatch back the technical foul that came the way of Isaac Humphries. Toward game end, that behavior shown by Mr. Humphries (which Calipari postgame was trying to dress up as “he was simply celebrating”) cost him a technical foul, and it was the one that sent him back to the bench as it was his fifth foul of the night.
That opinion of “celebrating” might not be close to correct, especially when Aggie radio announcers Al Pulliam and Dave South shared a different thought, based on what they saw. No matter how you saw it, suffice it to say young Humphries was nothing more than mirroring the manic exhibitionist tendencies of Coach Calipari to disrespect his team, the referees, the crowd and anyone in the same zip code on any given play—all night long. Any basketball fan, no matter the team they are rooting for, surely grows weary of the histrionics and faux outrage that masks the temper tantrums that really aren’t even up to legendary Bobby Knight standards. Calipari’s wincing, wild arm gestures and generally poor temperament are really wearisome compared to, say, Coach K, John Wooden, or Billy Kennedy.
What this win does for the Aggies is multifold. First, their confidence is on the way-up scale being able to defend their home court, and it’s a key SEC victory that puts the Aggies 9-5 in league play as well as 20-7 for the season. It’s the 15th 20-win season (so far) in Aggie men’s basketball history, plus the ninth time in the past 12 years per Aggie game notes. It’s not just your imagination that there’s guaranteed overtime when the Wildcats come to town, as overtime has happened three times that they’ve come to Reed Arena.
Fortunately, tonight the Aggies beat the No. 14 Kentucky team and there was joy in Reed Arena that will last until 6 p.m. game time on Wednesday, Feb. 24, when Mississippi State comes to town. That game is going to be on ESPN2, and checking online for tickets, your best available right now is row H, seat 14 (2nd from the top wall) in section 206. If you need 2 seats together, at least 2 folks will be in luck, if you want to sit one person in the row behind the other, same section, 206, row D. For all Texas Aggie basketball fans, to quote Gabe Bock, “It’s a great day to be an Aggie.” Texas A&M is finally, at long last, a basketball school.