For the first time since the first game of the season, we caught a glimpse of the Texas A&M team that everyone thought would enter the year as the favorite to win the SEC.
On Wednesday night, Texas A&M went into Auburn Arena and knocked off the No. 8 Tigers, 81-80. They are the only team not coached by Bruce Pearl to get a win in that building this season, and they can thank Duane Wilson for that. His free throw with 3.5 seconds left capped a weird final minute and prevented the Aggies from blowing a golden chance at a critical win for solidifying their NCAA tournament hopes.
In the first half, Texas A&M built a lead that grew to double-figures at the break, but Auburn made their run, setting up a final minute that was as thrilling as it was ugly.
Texas A&M had the ball, up 80-78, when they turned it over with 50 seconds left. At the other end of the floor, Auburn immediately proceeded to do the exact same thing. After D.J. Hogg missed a tough three at the end of a shot clock, Horace Spencer was inexplicably fouled by Admon Gilder 90-feet away from the rim. Spencer, a 6-foot-9 center that is not exactly not for his ability to shoot, stepped to the line and cooly buried both free throws despite getting iced by Texas A&M in-between the two shots.
That tied the game at 80.
Until Chuma Okeke picked up a foul trying to take a charge on Wilson, who stepped to the line with 3.5 seconds left and gave the Aggies the win. Mustapha Heron, who finished with 28 points, missed a 30-footer at the buzzer that would have won the game.
Wilson finished with nine points off the bench while T.J. Starks led the way for the Aggies with 23 points, but the truth is that a combination of two things earned the Aggies this win: Their front-line of Robert Williams and Tyler Davis was able to dominate the paint while the shooters stationed on the perimeter made enough shots to make Auburn pay for throwing extra bodies their way.
Davis and Williams combined for 31 points and 15 boards while the Aggies, as a team, shot 9-for-18 from beyond the arc. Texas A&M grabbed nearly 40 percent of the available offensive rebounds while allowing Auburn to corral just five.
That is precisely the way this team needs to be able to play if they are going to fulfill their potential.
And rest assured, they have potential.
The fact that they lost their first five games in SEC play is embarrassing. Suspensions and injuries played a role in that — as did some bad luck in close games — but the truth is that A&M should be good enough that bad luck shouldn’t cost them against LSU at home.
And if they continue to play the way they did on Wednesday night, they will be.