Texas A&M stuns No. 15 Arkansas 82-64 to reach SEC final

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
0 Comments

TAMPA, Fla. – Surging Texas A&M isn’t leaving its NCAA Tournament hopes to chance.

With three wins in three days over favored opponents, the eighth-seeded Aggies not only have landed an unlikely spot in the championship game of the SEC Tournament but almost certainly ensured their inclusion in the NCAA field of 68, too.

The Aggies can earn the SEC’s automatic berth by beating No. 9 Tennessee on Sunday. But even with a loss in the final, they’re likely in – only weeks after looking like they had no shot.

“That’s not up to me. I just go out there, and I play my game. That’s up to the higher-ups,” leading scorer Quenton Jackson said after his 20-point performance helped the Aggies take down No. 15 Arkansas 82-64 in the semifinals on Saturday. “I try to make sure that me and my team are on the same page and we play as hard as we can every night.”

The Aggies (23-11) took down a ranked opponent for the second straight day, with Jackson also contributing six assists, five rebounds and four steals.

A&M improved to 8-1 since ending a month-long, eight-game losing streak in February.

“I think it’s really just a testament to what we’ve been preaching to each other all week. We know that for us to have a chance to win any game, it’s got to start with our energy level and how we attack the game,” the Aggies’ Hayden Hefner said.

“I would go even further and say it’s a testament of everything that we have done since the year started, all the work that we put in from boot camp, to individuals, to practices, to all that,” Jackson added. “It’s a testament of all of that.”

Hassan Diarra, whose clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds of overtime gave the Aggies an 83-80 victory in A&M’s tournament opener, had 12 points. Tyrece Radford and Henry Coleman contributed 12 of 11 points, respectively, after playing key roles in a five-point upset of fourth-ranked Auburn in the quarterfinals.

Arkansas (25-8) split a pair of games with the Aggies in January but was no match for them Saturday after falling behind by double digits in the first half.

Stanley Umude led the Razorbacks with 20 points. Au’Diese Toney added 18, but leading scorer JD Notae was slowed by foul trouble and limited to five points – nearly 14 below his average – on 2-of-8 shooting.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said his team “got totally outplayed.”

“I think JD, obviously the foul trouble was problematic. It wasn’t just offense. I can’t remember JD’s defense like that since we’ve been together,” Musselman said. “So it was both sides of the basketball, to be honest with you.”

The eighth-seeded Aggies opened a double-digit lead for the third straight day, leading 36-24 at halftime after squandering a 16-point lead during its victory over Florida and nearly letting a 20-point advantage slip away in a 67-62 upset of top-seeded Auburn on Friday.

This time, the Aggies didn’t waver.

Arkansas, the No. 4 seed after winning 14 of 16 games to end the regular season, used an 8-0 burst to trim an 11-point deficit to 47-44. But Texas A&M was hardly rattled, rebuilding the lead to 11 over the next three minutes and hiking it to 68-52 on Radford’s three-point play with 6:30 to go.

Aggies coach Buzz Williams emptied his bench after leading by as many as 23 down the stretch.

DICKIE V

College basketball icon Dick Vitale was honored before Saturday’s semifinals, with the SEC recognizing his contributions to the sport, the league and his fight against cancer. The Hall of Fame television analyst lives in nearby Sarasota, Florida, and was presented a basketball signed by the league’s 14 coaches. Vitale walked into Amalie Arena amid a standing ovation – and shouts of “Dickie V!” – and accepted the autographed ball from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey at midcourt.

The 82-year-old Vitale has been public about his treatment for assorted medical issues, including at least two forms of cancer.

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The Aggies are in the tournament final for the second time since moving from the Big 12 to the SEC. They lost to Kentucky in overtime in 2016.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks shot 17% from behind the 3-point arc, missing 15 of 18 attempts.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M: Faces No. 9 Tennessee. The Volunteers won the regular season meeting between the teams 90-80 in Knoxville on Feb. 1.

Arkansas: Awaits its seeding and opening opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

Kessler blocks 12, gets triple-double, No. 1 Auburn tops A&M

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

AUBURN, Ala.- Walker Kessler did it again for No. 1 Auburn.

Kessler recorded his second triple-double in six weeks, and just the third in program history, as the Tigers bounced back from a loss with a 75-58 victory over Texas A&M.

Kessler’s final tally: 12 blocked shots, 12 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. He’s emerged as a star after playing a lesser role as a freshman for North Carolina.

“He’s one of the most dominant players in all of college basketball,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “How would you have ever thought that you could say that a year ago?”

The same could be said for his team.

The 7-foot-1 Tar Heels transfer rejected four of the Aggies’ first seven shots and swatted away bad feelings from earlier in the week. The Tigers (22-3, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) had their 19-game winning streak stopped by Arkansas in overtime.

And Kessler’s teammates were able to funnel the offensive players in his direction, with results that are becoming fairly predictable.

“They make it easy to block shots because they’re so good at defending the ball,” he said. “They know that I can block the shots so they corral the guard to me so I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of stuff without them.”

The Aggies (15-10, 4-8) dropped their eighth straight game and had one of their worst offensive performances of the season.

Allen Flanigan scored a season-high 16 points for Auburn while K.D. Johnson added 11 and Devan Cambridge 10. Jabari Smith had nine points and eight rebounds. Kessler scored 10 points in the second half.

Henry Coleman III had 10 points and 13 rebounds for Texas A&M, while Quenton Jackson scored 11. Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV also had 10 points.

Aggies coach Buzz Williams called Auburn “a team that’s good enough to win the national championship.”

“I always want to give credit to the opponent,” Williams said. “I do think there were some shots, particularly in the first half, that maybe you would say, should we have shot it? We were a little bit out of sorts on three or four possessions.”

The Aggies had been 5-0 at Auburn Arena but trailed by as many as 25 in this one. But the 3-of-25 shooting from 3-point range could come back to haunt the Tigers.

“Our team played really hard today in front of a national television audience,” Pearl said. “They played really good defense. We didn’t make as many shots as we need to to get to the point where we feel like we’re special, but that’s what needs to be done.”

Auburn point guard Zep Jasper returned to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a non-COVID-19 illness.

“Zep brings the fire on defense,” Flanigan said. “He’s going to get up in you and he’s going to play defense and move his feet. He’s going to lock down whoever he’s in front of on a given night.”

Both teams started off cold, with Auburn missing its first five shots and Texas A&M opening 0 for 7. Johnson’s fast-break layup at the buzzer gave Auburn a 33-18 halftime lead.

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M just managed to avoid its lowest scoring output of the season, 57 points against Butler on Nov. 23. Made just 7 of 39 shots in the first half (17.9%) and 19 of 70 (27.1% overall).

Auburn showed resilience in bouncing back from its first loss since November, an 80-76 overtime defeat.

HARSIN ON HAND

Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin mingled with students in the stands during the game. He had plenty to celebrate a day after President Jay Gogue announced the coach would be retained following an investigation into the program after a number of player and staff departures.

“I’m really happy for coach Harsin, his family, his staff,” Pearl said. “And I look forward to working with him and his whole team to keep making Auburn the everything school it is. It’s good to get that behind us.”

UP NEXT

Texas A&M hosts Florida on Tuesday night.

Auburn hosts Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.

Kessler blocks 12, gets triple-double, No. 1 Auburn tops A&M

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

AUBURN, Ala. — Walker Kessler did it again for No. 1 Auburn.

Kessler recorded his second triple-double in six weeks, and just the third in program history, as the Tigers bounced back from a loss with a 75-58 victory over Texas A&M.

Kessler’s final tally: 12 blocked shots, 12 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. He’s emerged as a star after playing a lesser role as a freshman for North Carolina.

“He’s one of the most dominant players in all of college basketball,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “How would you have ever thought that you could say that a year ago?”

The same could be said for his team.

The 7-foot-1 Tar Heels transfer rejected four of the Aggies’ first seven shots and swatted away bad feelings from earlier in the week. The Tigers (22-3, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) had their 19-game winning streak stopped by Arkansas in overtime.

And Kessler’s teammates were able to funnel the offensive players in his direction, with results that are becoming fairly predictable.

“They make it easy to block shots because they’re so good at defending the ball,” he said. “They know that I can block the shots so they corral the guard to me so I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of stuff without them.”

The Aggies (15-10, 4-8) dropped their eighth straight game and had one of their worst offensive performances of the season.

Allen Flanigan scored a season-high 16 points for Auburn while K.D. Johnson added 11 and Devan Cambridge 10. Jabari Smith had nine points and eight rebounds. Kessler scored 10 points in the second half.

Henry Coleman III had 10 points and 13 rebounds for Texas A&M, while Quenton Jackson scored 11. Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV also had 10 points.

Aggies coach Buzz Williams called Auburn “a team that’s good enough to win the national championship.”

“I always want to give credit to the opponent,” Williams said. “I do think there were some shots, particularly in the first half, that maybe you would say, should we have shot it? We were a little bit out of sorts on three or four possessions.”

The Aggies had been 5-0 at Auburn Arena but trailed by as many as 25 in this one. But the 3-of-25 shooting from 3-point range could come back to haunt the Tigers.

“Our team played really hard today in front of a national television audience,” Pearl said. “They played really good defense. We didn’t make as many shots as we need to to get to the point where we feel like we’re special, but that’s what needs to be done.”

Auburn point guard Zep Jasper returned to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a non-COVID-19 illness.

“Zep brings the fire on defense,” Flanigan said. “He’s going to get up in you and he’s going to play defense and move his feet. He’s going to lock down whoever he’s in front of on a given night.”

Both teams started off cold, with Auburn missing its first five shots and Texas A&M opening 0 for 7. Johnson’s fast-break layup at the buzzer gave Auburn a 33-18 halftime lead.

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M just managed to avoid its lowest scoring output of the season, 57 points against Butler on Nov. 23. Made just 7 of 39 shots in the first half (17.9%) and 19 of 70 (27.1% overall).

Auburn showed resilience in bouncing back from its first loss since November, an 80-76 overtime defeat.

HARSIN ON HAND

Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin mingled with students in the stands during the game. He had plenty to celebrate a day after President Jay Gogue announced the coach would be retained following an investigation into the program after a number of player and staff departures.

“I’m really happy for coach Harsin, his family, his staff,” Pearl said. “And I look forward to working with him and his whole team to keep making Auburn the everything school it is. It’s good to get that behind us.”

UP NEXT

Texas A&M hosts Florida on Tuesday night.

Auburn hosts Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.

No. 12 Kentucky withstands test from Aggies in 64-58 win

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Sahvir Wheeler scored 12 points to lead a balanced scoring attack and No. 12 Kentucky used a strong second half to outlast Texas A&M 64-58 on Wednesday night.

The victory extends Kentucky’s winning streak to four games and snaps an eight-game winning streak for Texas A&M (15-3, 4-1 SEC).

The Aggies were dominant early and led by as many as 13 in front of a record crowd of 14,036, but the Kentucky (15-3, 5-1) chipped away at the lead before going on top midway through the second half and holding on for the win.

The win was No. 799 for coach John Calipari.

Tyrece Radford made a layup for the Aggies to cut the lead to 2 with less than three minutes remaining. Both teams committed turnovers before Jacob Toppin made 1 of 2 free throws to push Kentucky’s lead to 61-58 with about 90 seconds to go.

The Aggies had two chances to tie it after that, but Radford and Hassan Diarra both missed 3-pointers and Texas A&M was forced to intentionally foul with 10 seconds to go.

Davion Mintz made 1 of 2 free throws to extend it to 62-58 and Oscar Tshiebwe made two free throws after another Aggie 3-point miss to secure the victory.

Tshiebwe added eight points and 14 rebounds for Kentucky and Mintz had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Toppin scored the first four points of an 8-1 run that gave Kentucky its first lead of the game with nine minutes left. Kellan Grady missed a 3-pointer but got the rebound and finished with a layup to put the Wildcats on top 49-48.

A dunk by Henry Coleman tied it later in the second half, but Kentucky scored the next four points to make it 58-54 with five minutes to play.

Coleman led A&M with 17 points and was the only Aggie who scored in double figures.

Kentucky scored the first five points of the second half, with a 3 from Wheeler, to tie it. But the Aggies used a 6-1 run aided by three turnovers by the Wildcats to make it 41-36 with about 16 minutes to go.

Texas A&M was up 35-30 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats were able to escape with a win in this one but will need to play better in their next game if they hope to beat No. 2 Auburn on the road Saturday night.

Texas A&M: The Aggies will be unhappy that they let this one get away, but should be pleased with their progress this season after going 2-8 in conference play last season.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Visits Auburn Saturday.

Texas A&M: Visits Arkansas Saturday night.

Texas A&M gets probation, Williams two-game suspension from NCAA

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M basketball coach Buzz Williams has been suspended for two games and the team has been placed on two years of probation for multiple NCAA rules violations, the NCAA announced Friday.

The violations include Williams having impermissible contact in July 2019 with a prospect. Additionally, an unnamed assistant coach observed and held tryouts with a prospect during an unofficial visit. That assistant was found to have conducted multiple supervised workouts off campus with team members and a prospect that were not allowed because of the pandemic.

The school suspended that assistant from June 2020 through the 2020-21 season.

Additional penalties for the infractions are reducing the number of official visits for the 2021-22 academic year by five. They must also suspend unofficial visits during the first three Southeastern Conference basketball games this season. Texas A&M will also have to reduce recruiting days during the 2021-22 academic year by 5%.

The NCAA and Texas A&M worked together through the negotiated resolution process to come to terms on the punishment.

Williams is entering his third year at Texas A&M. The Aggies went 8-10 and 2-8 in SEC play last season in a year where they had to cancel multiple games because of coronavirus issues.

McDonald powers Arizona past Indiana and into Final Four

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SAN ANTONIO — Arizona asks Aari McDonald to do just about everything for the Wildcats. And just about every game, she delivers all she’s got.

McDonald scored 33 points in a dizzying display of razzle-dazzle shot making and gutsy leadership in crunch time, carrying the No. 3 seed Wildcats to a 66-53 win over No. 4 seed Indiana on Monday night, sending Arizona to its first Final Four in women’s NCAA Tournament history.

“Just being a little player, I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” said McDonald, who stands just 5-foot-6 but used her small frame size to slip under and around Indiana defenders or shake them off the dribble.

“A lot of people say I’m too small. I’ll never do this, I’ll never do that. That drives me,” she said.

The Pac-12 player of the year controlled just about every Arizona possession, hitting the Hoosiers with slashing drives, timely rebounds and even a banked-in 3-pointer.

She briefly left the game with a twisted left ankle late in the fourth quarter, but had it taped up and limped back on the court to score six more points. Her three-point play with 34 seconds left put the exclamation point on the victory.

Arizona (20-5) advanced to Friday’s national semifinal against top-seeded UConn, which reached its 13th straight Final Four when it beat No. 2 seed Baylor earlier Monday.

Wildcats coach Adia Barnes, who led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 as a point guard in 1998, is now the sixth coach to lead her alma mater to the women’s Final Four.

Barnes has said she took a risk when she returned to coach at Arizona five years ago, when it was one of the worst programs in the Pac-12. Then McDonald transferred from Washington and the two have been not-so-quietly building the program in the desert ever since.

“Aari, I asked her to do everything. She has done everything the whole time she’s been here,” Barnes. “And I’m proud of all of these young women around her. They fight and they play for her, and it’s just amazing.”

McDonald topped 30 points for the second straight tournament game. She scored 31 against Texas A&M two days earlier. Against the Hoosiers, she was 12-for-20 shooting and made 5 of 6 3-pointers.

“I always want to be better than I was the day before,” McDonald said.

History was going to be made whichever team won Monday night. The Hoosiers advanced past the Sweet 16 for the first time but their methodical, grinding game simply ran into a a player it couldn’t match for 40 minutes.

It worked for three quarters. After pulling back from an eight-point deficit in the third behind a workhorse night from Mackenzie Holmes in the post, the Hoosiers had tied it 48-48. But a scoring drought of more than three minutes kept them from making a charge in a game Indiana led only one minute of the second in the second quarter.

Holmes scored 20 and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Indiana (21-6), and the Hoosiers tried to use her presence in the post to control the game until the late scoring problems.

Arizona made consecutive 3-pointers in the middle of the fourth quarter, the latter from Helena Pueyo off a bullet pass from McDonald, for a 57-50 lead. Pueyo made two 3-pointers in the final quarter.

“I feel like we got some good looks, we couldn’t put an exclamation point on some of them,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “It was tough for us, but I feel like we gave it everything we got and we didn’t let up for one second. And that’s all I can ask for from my team.”

The tension of the biggest night in program history for both teams showed early in a timid, ragged start as the first 10 shots of the game misfired before McDonald finally got a short jumper to fall. Once McDonald started heating up, she scored 10 of Arizona’s first 14 points.

McDonald even grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, including one she ripped from and Indiana player’s hands for a layup to close the third quarter.

“She’s an elite player and she stepped up big time,” Holmes said. “She got to the rim well, she can score on all three levels … We gave it our best shot, but she hit a lot of tough shots on us tonight.”

STAT LINE

Indiana shot 36% and was 0 of 9 on 3-pointers. The Hoosiers were 13 of 17 on free throws but got zero points off their bench and only got eight second-chance points.