Billy Kennedy

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Texas A&M lands Spanish forward Eric Vila

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With the loss of all-conference forward Jalen Jones, Texas A&M was in a position where they could afford to add another front court body alongside the likes of Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos. Thursday afternoon head coach Billy Kennedy and his staff managed to do just that, as 6-foot-9 forward Eric Martinez Vila made his pledge to the SEC program.

News of Vila’s commitment was first reported by TexAgs.com, and the FC Barcelona Lassa (that’s the club’s basketball program) product took visits to Texas A&M, Missouri and Wake Forest earlier this spring. Vila’s viewed as more of a combo forward, with the ability to step away from the basket and hit perimeter shots, giving the Aggies some added versatility in the front court.

Vila has plenty of experience playing for both FC Barcelona’s B team (however he did appear with the A-team during the 2014-15 season), and he represented Spain in the 2014 FIBA U16 EuroBasket and 2015 FIBA U18 EuroBasket events. Vila is the fifth member of Texas A&M’s 2016 class, joining guards J.J. Caldwell and J.C. Hampton, wing DeShawn Corprew and forward Robert Williams.

No. 2 Oklahoma shuts down Texas A&M, rolls into Elite Eight

Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) and guard Jordan Woodard celebrate as Texas A&M guard T.J. Distefano, left, wipes his face during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Given the offensive weapons at Lon Kruger’s disposal, led by national Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield, West No. 2 Oklahoma’s ability to put the ball in the basket is what’s garnered most of the attention this season. While understandable, people should not overlook the fact that the Sooners are a solid defensive team as well. Thursday night Oklahoma shut down No. 3 Texas A&M, holding the Aggies to 34.4 percent shooting in their 77-63 victory in Anaheim.

As a result Oklahoma will make its first Elite Eight appearance since 2009, playing against either No. 1 Oregon or No. 4 Duke Saturday afternoon.

Texas A&M’s front court tandem of Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis has been a handful for opponents all season long, and with Oklahoma not being the deepest team in the post it appeared as if this was where the Aggies would be able to gain an advantage. However things didn’t work out that way, with Texas A&M not making the effort needed to work the ball inside in the first half and Oklahoma doing a good job of taking away passing lanes into the post.

That’s when the Sooners built their edge, as they led by 19 at the half and managed to hold off an early second half rally by Texas A&M. The Oklahoma approach defensively varied, as they fronted the post at times and in other instances had the guards dig down once the ball got there. And with the Oklahoma guards also shutting down driving lanes from the perimeter, Texas A&M resorted to throwing up perimeter shots far too often.

Offensively the Sooners were far more than just Hield, with Jordan Woodard scoring a game-high 22 points to lead five Oklahoma players in double figures. Hield added 17 points and ten rebounds for his first double-double of the season, but the problem for Texas A&M was the fact that so many other players were able to find looks for Oklahoma. The Sooners hit 11 three-pointers, shot 48.4 percent from the field and assisted on 23 of their 31 made field goals.

With their spacing and ball movement Oklahoma was too much for Texas A&M, despite the efforts of an excellent defender in senior guard Alex Caruso.

Oklahoma has the offense to score with any team in the country, as they’ve shown on many occasions this season. But this group isn’t too bad on the defensive end either, an understated reason why they’re one win away from their first Final Four since 2002.

No. 17 Texas A&M pulls away from Florida 72-66 in SEC

Texas A&M players celebrate a teammate's basket against Florida during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, March 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Jalen Jones made a go-ahead layup with 2:08 remaining and Alex Caruso followed with a steal and a layup 13 seconds later to key a late 7-0 run that pushed No. 17 Texas A&M past Florida 72-66 on Friday in the quarterfinals of Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Playing for the first time as the tournament’s top seed, the Aggies (25-7) needed everything to break free of a Florida team that stayed with them throughout a tight game featuring 11 ties and eight lead changes.

Danuel House followed those two quick baskets with a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to provide some more room, and Admon Gilder’s two free throws with 22.8 seconds left sealed the Aggies’ seventh straight win. Caruso added two more foul shots six seconds later.

House and Tyler Davis each scored 15 points for Texas A&M, which will face the Tennessee-LSU winner in Saturday’s semifinal. Jones finished with 13 points.

Kasey Hill’s 18 points led five players in double figures for eighth-seeded Florida (19-14).

Dorian Finney-Smith and John Egbunu each added 11 points for Florida, but Egbunu fouled out with just under three minutes left. Texas A&M then made several plays in the closing minutes to seal the back-and-forth game.

A day after dispatching Arkansas, Florida wondered whether it could win another game to help solidify its NCAA Tournament resume. The Gators gave it a run for a while, trading baskets and leads with the Aggies up to the 2:24 mark as Hill made two free throws to tie the game at 61.

Then came the final swing for Texas A&M as it closed the game on a 11-5 spurt.

First came Jones’ glide to the hoop, one of several athletic plays by the Aggies. Caruso followed by picking off a pass and racing down the court for another easy basket.

House’s long-range jumper provided the exclamation point, though it came down to Gilder’s free throws to make it final.

Both teams shot 39 percent, but the Aggies came away with a key win in their quest to win the tournament title.

House in particular thrived, despite 1-of-6 shooting from outside, making up for it with several quick moves including a baseline drive for a dunk. Davis, with eight rebounds, helped the Aggies stay even on the boards.

The Aggies’ problem was breaking free of a Florida squad that matched the same quick tempo and made more baskets. Allen and Finney-Smith combined for 16 points and got scoring help from other Gators who also chipped in on the boards.

——

TIP-INS

Florida: Devin Robinson and Kevaughn Allen each had 10 points for the Gators, who outrebounded the Aggies 45-43.

Texas A&M: The Aggies entered the game having won their last six by an average margin of 10.1 points.

UP NEXT

Florida: Awaiting postseason announcement.

Texas A&M: Faces Tennessee-LSU winner in Saturday’s semifinal.

Texas A&M picks up much-needed win over No. 14 Kentucky

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis (3) and Texas A&M's Jalen Jones (12) go after a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
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No. 14 Kentucky and Texas A&M entered Saturday’s game in College Station in far different states. John Calipari’s team was playing as well as any team in the country, as they’d won four straight games with each being decided by at least ten points. Texas A&M, on the other hand, had just ended a four-game losing streak and its chances of winning the SEC diminished as a result. An important game for both teams, it was Texas A&M that needed the momentum boost that can come with a big win.

And in somewhat controversial fashion the Aggies got the win they needed, beating the Wildcats 79-77 in overtime on a Tyler Davis put-back as time expired.

Davis’ shot capped a bizarre final ten seconds of overtime, beginning with Kentucky getting a stop up a point and freshman center Isaac Humphries being fouled. In his excitement Humphries spiked the basketball, but he and his teammates knew almost immediately what a risk that was. Humphries was given a technical foul, resulting in the Aggies getting two free throws themselves.

Danuel House made both of his, and with Skal Labissiere splitting his the game was tied. Now here’s the question: was the decision to give Humphries a technical foul the correct one? In many instances a player spiking the ball occurs in a fit of anger, and it’s generally understood that doing so will result in a technical. But Humphries clearly wasn’t angry, so could there have been a better understanding of the moment by the official?

This will be discussed for quite some time, but of greater importance for Kentucky down the line is what happened on the backboards.

Texas A&M grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, which works out to an offensive rebounding percentage of 40 percent, and scored 22 second-chance points. With the Aggies looking stagnant on offense at multiple points in the game, those extra opportunities proved to be quite valuable for them.

The Wildcats weren’t helped by the fact that Derek Willis, who’s been their best front court player in recent weeks, left the game with a sprained ankle in the second half. The positive for Kentucky was that Humphries produced his best game as a Wildcat, grabbing 12 rebounds with ten of them coming on the defensive end. The negative: the other Wildcat bigs combined for seven defensive rebounds, with Marcus Lee responsible for four of them.

Kentucky’s entire front court combined to grab 17 defensive rebounds. Texas A&M’s tandem of Davis (nine) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (four) combined to grab 13 of the Aggies’ 30 offensive boards. Add in a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds from Jalen Jones, and Texas A&M was able to win the game despite the fact that Danuel House and Anthony Collins combined to shoot 3-for-20 from the field.

Texas A&M did their best to dare a Kentucky player other than Tyler Ulis (22 points, 11 assists) or Jamal Murray (21 points) to beat them, alternating between man-to-man and triangle-and-2 looks to make the two standouts shoot challenged mid-range shots. But Ulis and Murray still managed to make plays, nearly leading Kentucky to a win that would have preserved their two-game lead atop the SEC standings.

Ultimately, a technical foul and Kentucky’s inability to close out the game’s final possession with a rebound did them in.

Turnovers, poor shooting cost No. 5 Texas A&M at Arkansas

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With 10 straight wins since a 13-point loss at Arizona State in early December, No. 5 Texas A&M emerged as the class of the SEC thanks to multiple scoring options, taking good care of the basketball and a solid defense. However those first two strengths weren’t present in Fayetteville Wednesday night, as the Aggies struggled to knock down shots and avoid turnovers.

The end result was a 74-71 loss at the hands of Arkansas, ending Texas A&M’s winning streak and also handing them their first loss in SEC play.

Entering Wednesday night no team in the SEC took better care of the basketball than Texas A&M, which turned the ball over on just 15 percent of its possessions in conference play. That wasn’t the case against Arkansas, as the Aggies coughed the ball up on 28.4 percent of their possessions (21 turnovers). Arkansas used pressure at times but it was more of the token variety, looking to take time off of the shot clock as opposed to speeding things up to the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” level that we’d grown accustomed to seeing from Mike Anderson-coached teams.

But Texas A&M made more mistakes in the half-court, with four starters having at least three turnovers on the night (Jalen Jones had five and Alex Caruso four, and some dubious offensive foul calls didn’t help either). Texas A&M was fortunate that Arkansas was unable to convert those turnovers into more points on the other end, as the home team scored 15 points off of Aggie turnovers.

Yet in dodging that bullet Texas A&M was unable to get over the hump as multiple key scorers struggled offensively. Outside of Danuel House (24 points, 7-for-12 FG) and Tyler Davis (14 points, 3-for-6 FG, 8-for-9 FT) the efficiency wasn’t there for a team that in conference games ranked second in the SEC in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Arkansas remained solid defensively, forcing Texas A&M to make challenged looks and at 39.6 percent shooting the Aggies were unable to do so at a high enough clip to get the win.

The question now is what do we make of Texas A&M, whose lead atop the SEC is down to one game in the loss column with their loss (LSU and Kentucky are 6-2, with South Carolina 5-2). While impressive in their seven wins to open SEC, Texas A&M’s best wins came at home against Florida and LSU.

The Aggies should still be viewed as the favorites to win the SEC, but they won’t lack for challengers either with games against each of the three teams directly behind them in the standings yet to be played. And the other games left on the schedule won’t be easy either, especially if the Aggies don’t take care of the ball as they have for the majority of their games this season.

Billy Kennedy’s team uncharacteristically struggled with turnovers against Arkansas, which was able to do enough to get the win.

Jones scores 20 as No. 10 A&M gets 66-53 win over Missouri

Texas A&M's Jalen Jones (12) grabs a rebound against Missouri's Ryan Rosburg (44) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Jalen Jones scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half to lead No. 10 Texas A&M to a 66-53 victory over Missouri on Saturday, extending the Aggies’ winning streak to 10 games.

Missouri (8-11, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) led by two points when Jones scored eight straight points to give A&M (17-2, 7-0) a 44-38 lead with about 13 minutes left. Jones started that stretch with his second 3-point play of the half and capped it with a 3-pointer. The Tigers missed six straight shots and went 5 minutes without scoring as the Aggies built the lead.

Ryan Rosburg finally broke Missouri’s scoring drought with a dunk with just under 10 minutes left, but Jones made his third three-point play of the half to start a 10-0 run that made it 54-40 with less than 7 minutes remaining and the Tigers didn’t threaten again.

Wes Clark had 12 points for Missouri, which dropped its fourth straight.

Texas A&M’s winning streak is its longest since it won 13 straight from Nov. 26, 2010 to Jan. 15, 2011, and its 7-0 start in the SEC is its best conference start since it also started 7-0 in 1993-94 to begin Southwest Conference play.

Jones struggled in the first half, missing all three of his field goal attempts, and making three free throws. He had no such trouble in the second half when he scored almost half of A&M’s points to fuel the victory.

The Tigers couldn’t find a rhythm offensively in the second half and went more than 3 1/2 minutes without scoring after the dunk by Rosburg that ended an even longer stretch without scoring.

Danuel House added 17 points and had a career-high seven assists for A&M, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 5.

Missouri scored the first eight points of the second half, with the first four from Kevin Puryear and the last four from Rosburg, to take a 33-29 lead with 17 1/2 minutes remaining.

The Aggies finally got on the board in the second half with a three-point play by Jones soon after and a jump shot that House made under heavy pressure just before the shot clock expired cut the lead to 35-34 about a minute later.

The Tigers led by two after a layup from Puryear with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half. The Aggies went on an 8-1 run, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, to take a 25-20 lead.

Namon Wright hit a jump shot near the end of the first half to cut A&M’s lead to 29-25 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Missouri: Rosburg, who had 10 points, fouled out with about 4 1/2 minutes left. … Puryear finished with 11 points and six rebounds. … The Tigers made just 3 of 19 3-point attempts.

Texas A&M: Alex Caruso had five assists and four rebounds. … A&M’s bench outscored Missouri’s 21-5. … Tavario Miller had 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Missouri: Visits No. 23 Kentucky on Wednesday.

Texas A&M: Visits Arkansas on Wednesday.