COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Auburn guard Bryce Brown said he fired up a couple of long-range shots Wednesday night that likely had his coaches “shaking their heads.”
“But when I make it, they don’t tend to be mad about it,” Brown said with a smile.
He made plenty against Texas A&M and scored all but two of his 22 points in the first half as No. 14 Auburn cruised to an 85-66 victory.
The Tigers (13-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) won on the road for the first time in league play this season. They dominated the Aggies (7-8, 1-3) from the start and never looked back.
Brown scored 18 consecutive points for the Tigers — and outscored the Aggies 18-10 by himself during that span — late in the first half to stake Auburn to a double-digit lead it didn’t relinquish.
Brown began the stretch with a three-point play after he was fouled in the lane on a layup, and his next 15 points came on 3-point shots.
“I thought he didn’t really take that many bad looks. He worked to get open,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said.
Jared Harper had 17 points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds for Auburn. Anfernee McLemore added 13 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Chuma Okeke had 10 points and seven rebounds. Austin Wiley grabbed a career-high 12 boards.
“Everything they do well, we don’t do well, so it was a tough matchup for us,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Auburn overwhelmed Texas A&M in second-chance points (20-8), points off turnovers (18-10), offensive rebounds (20-7) and bench points (27-5).
“This win will work wonders for us,” Brown said. “It will help us at home, too, because we know if we can get the job done away from our place, we can definitely get it done at our place. We just want to keep getting as many road wins as we can because that will be the separator between us and other teams in the SEC.”
Savion Flagg and Wendell Mitchell each had 22 points to lead the Aggies.
“We got sped up at the beginning, and we allowed them to control the tempo,” Mitchell said.
Auburn: The Tigers improved to 4-3 away from Auburn Arena. Before the game, Pearl said they needed to play better on the road if they intend to “have the kind of year we want to have.” The lopsided victory Wednesday should go a long way toward building confidence away from home, especially with the Aggies coming off a last-second victory at Alabama on Saturday.
Texas A&M: Any notion the Aggies were back on the right track following TJ Starks’ buzzer-beater at Alabama was quickly swept aside in what is expected to be a rebuilding year under Kennedy.
While the one-sided road victory was nice for the Tigers, they have a much better chance of rising in the rankings with a strong showing Saturday against Kentucky.
McLemore timed his jump perfectly and put his hand on top of the ball as Flagg tried a short jumper in the paint early in the second half. McLemore’s extended block drew “aaahs” from the Aggies crowd with Auburn leading 57-42 at the time.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Aggies entered averaging 3.4 more rebounds per game than their opponents, but Auburn claimed a 50-33 advantage on the boards.
HE SAID IT
“We thought at times we were the Harlem Globetrotters, trying to dribble instead of making hard cuts and guys getting open and passing the ball. I thought we got sloppy.” — Kennedy on his team’s play.
Auburn returns home to face No. 12 Kentucky on Saturday.
Texas A&M stays at home to play Missouri on Saturday.
WATCH: TJ Starks’ 3-pointer gives Texas A&M win at buzzer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — After trailing for nearly the entire game, Texas A&M had a chance to defeat Alabama on the road.
With 3.4 seconds left, TJ Starks caught the inbound pass, which was lobbed over his head because Alabama was pressing, sprinted right outside the 3-point arc, and with his momentum still going toward the baseline, floated a shot that banked in for an 81-80 victory .
It was the Aggies’ first SEC and road win of the season.
“Hopefully, this (win) gives us some energy and confidence,” Texas A&M coach Bill Kennedy said.
The winning possession was set up by Alabama’s struggles from the free-throw line. With the Crimson Tide leading by a point, Kira Lewis Jr. went to the line and made only 1 of 2.
“Even if he would have made it, we would have tried to tie the game up with a 3,” Starks said. “It did give us a little bit of life once he missed the free throw.”
Up to the final possession, Starks had struggled, shooting just 3 of 16 for nine points. The Aggies turned to the combination of Savion Flagg and Josh Nebo to score on the inside with a combined 37 points.
They both finished with seven rebounds, which led the team.
“They had a stretch there, where for whatever reason, we were just out of position on post defense, especially on Nebo,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “He got the ball where he wanted to.”
The Aggies outscored the Crimson Tide by 48-30 inside the 3-point line.
Of the 40 minutes of the game, Alabama led for 36 minutes.
John Petty had his best game of the season for the Crimson Tide, scoring 22 points off six 3-pointers. Donta Hall recorded his seventh double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and a season-high 16 rebounds.
Alabama has struggled holding onto a lead, and Saturday wasn’t any different. It built an 11-point lead by the end of the first half, and early in the second half, led by 12. Halfway through the second half, its lead was down to three, and it gave up its first lead of the game at the 7:34 mark.
“I just feel like they went on a run down the stretch,” Alabama forward Tevin Mack said. “Time ended up being on their side. We didn’t have enough time down the stretch for us to make our run.”
Texas A&M: The Aggies won their first SEC game this season, ending a three-game losing streak.
Alabama: Petty, the team’s best 3-point shooter, found his stroke. The sophomore hit a season-high six 3-pointers.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Hall finished with four blocks, tying his season high. His first block of the game was his 200th of his career, making him the seventh player in Alabama history to pass 200.
Texas A&M shot 22 of 30 for 73 percent from the free-throw line, while Alabama shot 18 of 29 for 62 percent.
Texas A&M: Returns home on Wednesday to face No. 11 Auburn.
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No. 18 Kentucky rallies to pull away from Texas A&M 85-74
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After an awful start, Kentucky coach John Calipari was happy to see his team finish off Texas A&M.
Tyler Herro had 21 points, Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 18 and No. 18 Kentucky overcame a 10-0 deficit before holding off Texas A&M for an 85-74 victory on Tuesday night.
“The whole season is about building,” the coach said. “We won a game. We won a league game. We won our first league game. Good start.”
The Wildcats (11-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) definitely had room for improvement after Saturday’s 77-75 loss at Alabama, disappointment that translated into an early hangover against the Aggies.
Kentucky started badly on both ends with four missed shots, turnovers and defensive breakdowns the Aggies seized upon for a pair of 10-point leads. Kentucky quickly regrouped with a 19-6 run over 5:21. Hagans had a pair of steals during the spurt in which everything clicked.
The Wildcats led 46-34 at the break before having to withstand a second-half comeback by the Aggies (6-7, 0-2), who got within 66-64 with 7:55 left. Immanuel Quickley answered with a 3-pointer and PJ Washington eventually followed with a three-point play for an 11-point cushion that held up.
“We started pretty slow and eventually we got it going a little bit,” said Herro, who was 7 of 14 from the field with three from long range for his second 20-point effort in three games.
“Second half, we played a little bit better. Overall, we have to start games quicker and better.”
Hagans made 10 of 11 free throws along with shooting 4 of 6 as the Wildcats made 15 of 27 (56 percent) after halftime to finish 52 percent overall.
“The Alabama game was tough,” Quickley said, “but we bounced back. It felt extremely good.”
The Aggies meanwhile were left with another game they played close but came up just short.
Jay Jay Chandler and TJ Starks each had 18 points for Texas A&M, which shot above 50 percent for much of the game. The Aggies cooled off late and finished 48 percent.
Kentucky should remain ranked as long as it follows up against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
A hard foul against Hagans led to a first-half scrum resulting in technical fouls for both teams. Christian Mekowulu and John Walker were whistled for the Aggies, while Washington was called for Kentucky.
Hagans made four free throws to make it 33-21.
Texas A&M: The Aggies stayed close with good shooting and even edged Kentucky 29-28 on the glass. They just didn’t have enough answers down the stretch to overtake the Wildcats and were hurt by 19 turnovers leading to 22 points.
“We started giving the ball away and their defense revved up,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “They tried to speed the game up and I feel like that was in their advantage on the defensive end.”
Kentucky: Shaky as the Wildcats initially looked, they settled down and soon led after 10 minutes. Though outshot much of the night by the Aggies, handling the paint 42-32 and outscoring their bench 23-9 helped them gain the edge and a strong bounce-back from Saturday’s loss against the Crimson Tide. Redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker had four critical points along with three assists.
“Jemarl Baker went in and was just playing basketball,” Calipari said. “He wasn’t playing for himself, trying to get his (points). If a guy was open, he threw it to him. It changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Texas A&M visits Alabama on Saturday, seeking its third win in the past five meetings.
Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday in search of its fifth consecutive win against the Commodores.
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the SEC.
MIDSEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year now finds himself firmly in the National Player of the Year discussion after a stellar start. Williams is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game on the season as he’s improved nearly every facet of his game.
While the 6-foot-7 junior was mostly an interior force last season, he’s improved his range to become a decent perimeter shooter (41 percent from three on a small sample size). Passing has also been a revelation for Williams, as he’s made the Vols’ offense a lot better with his ability to create for teammates.
Zion Williamson still finds himself as the current NPOY favorite, but Williams is doing everything he can to close the gap.
THE ALL SEC FIRST TEAM
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: Schofield has been nearly just as good as Williams in a dominant Tennessee frontcourt. Putting up 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, Schofield is a matchup nightmare who can make plays all over the floor.
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas: The sophomore big man has become a force on the interior. The NBA Draft prospect is averaging 17.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 66 percent shooting.
Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: On a loaded Kentucky team, Johnson has emerged as the team’s best player as he’s now considered as a potential lottery pick. The freshman guard is averaging 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 43 percent three-point range.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: The senior leader of a dangerous Mississippi State team, Weatherspoon has helped the Bulldogs to a strong start. Weatherspoon is averaging 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
NIT: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Alabama, Missouri
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. The SEC race is wide open
Not that this should come as any sort of surprise, but the SEC race is wide open at this point in the season. Defending co-regular season champions Auburn and Tennessee have returned to top-15 form from last season. Kentucky is starting to figure things out while looking like the potential juggernaut many believed they could be.
Mississippi State, LSU and Florida also have the look of very dangerous teams who could be sleepers in the SEC race. And the second tier of the SEC (Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama, and Missouri) are all off to decent starts.
Besides for Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina, seemingly every team is a threat in the league this year.
2. Auburn and Tennessee both have teams capable of repeating as SEC champions
Defending co-SEC champions Auburn and Tennessee have lived up to lofty preseason expectations so far as both teams find themselves ranked in the top 15 in the country.
The Vols and Tigers both sport top 35 offenses and defenses on KenPom and both have passed the all-important eye-test by playing well against elite teams. Tennessee has knocked off Gonzaga while hanging tough with Kansas while Auburn fought hard against Duke and knocked off teams they were supposed to beat like Washington, Xavier and Arizona.
Both veteran teams look like they’re well-positioned to be near the top of the SEC standings once again this season thanks to veteran teams that have won plenty of games.
3. Kentucky is starting to figure things out
After the opening night dominance of Duke over Kentucky in the Champions Classic, there were some serious questions about the Wildcats. More questions returned once Kentucky suffered a surprising loss to Seton Hall.
Over the last several weeks, the Wildcats have answered many of those concerns with notable results.
Kentucky is starting to figure out its rotation while also clamping down more on defense. The transfer of point guard Quade Green helped alleviate some perimeter logjams that have enabled sparkplugs like Ashton Hagans to come in and earn more minutes. That’s provided more stability for Kentucky overall while enhancing their perimeter defense quite a bit. Kentucky also has the luxury of having multiple guys who can take over a game as we’ve seen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have big recent outings against quality competition. The frontcourt play of Reid Travis and P.J. Washington remains solid as well.
Kentucky still has to get by Auburn and Tennessee to be the SEC’s premier team, but they’re in as good of a position as they could have hoped for given how embarrassing the season started.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. Can Auburn and Tennessee reintroduce key pieces into the rotation?
For as good as Auburn and Tennessee have been this season, both programs are still trying to reintroduce double-figure scorers back into their rotations.
Auburn finally gets forward Danjel Purifoy back into the lineup after his suspension for his alleged involvement in the FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal. The Tigers don’t need Purifoy to be great, but if he’s able to provide another lift in the frontcourt, then it adds another scary element to Auburn’s rotation.
Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner has also been sidelined most of this season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. The SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year might be the Vols’ most important perimeter scorer as he would help the backcourt of Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden immensely by adding another playmaker.
It’s not a guarantee that either of these guys make a huge impact. Purifoy hasn’t played for a season and a half and Turner is clearly having issues with a surgically-repaired shoulder that has given him trouble before. But if either of these guys can regain previous form then it makes these two teams even more of a threat for the rest of the season.
2. Do any middle tier teams separate themselves from the pack and make the NCAA tournament?
At the start of 2019 the SEC had five teams ranked in the top 20 on KenPom with a sixth team, LSU, coming in at No. 40. Barring an extremely bad conference season, those teams should all be aiming to make the NCAA tournament.
It’s the second tier of SEC teams that will be intriguing to follow.
Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri are all in the top 75 on KenPom after positive starts to the season. None of those teams are currently guaranteed NCAA tournament entry based on current standing. But all of them are going to have ample opportunities to earn huge wins since so many SEC teams are ranked and sitting in Quadrant 1 territory.
Last season saw the SEC create a basketball resurgence with eight NCAA tournament bids. Some work still needs to be done, but with the Pac-12 as down as it is, there is ample opportunity for the SEC to make another major push for the same number of NCAA tournament bids.
3. Can Mississippi State push the SEC’s elite?
Among the SEC’s four ranked teams, Mississippi State is by far the most unproven of the bunch.
Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee are all coming off of NCAA tournament appearances with deep and talented rosters. And although the Bulldogs have earned some notable non-conference wins over teams like Cincinnati and Clemson, they haven’t competed against elite national competition like the other top SEC teams.
Since the Bulldogs haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2009, they’ll need to earn the trust of everybody by proving themselves against top-flight teams. After years of building, it finally looks like Ben Howland has a veteran team who can take him back to the NCAA tournament. Quinndary Weatherspoon leads a team with five double-figure scorers. The Bulldogs have depth at multiple spots. Aric Holman has been tremendous in spurts. Mississippi State has a top-45 offense and defense. If this program is ever going to make a run for the top of the SEC, this is the time to do it.
1. The SEC gets seven teams in the NCAA tournament (and has a more successful March)
Last year was a banner year for the SEC when they had eight of its membership make the Big Dance. Although the SEC top-to-bottom doesn’t appear to be as strong as last season, it’s looking like the SEC should still have plenty of numbers in March. And more teams should also be poised for a deeper run.
The key will be if the middle-tier teams can pick off the ranked teams during conference play as happened last season. If the top SEC contenders run away with the league, and only lose to each other, then it significantly hurts the SEC’s chances for overall quality wins. But if the league is a bloodbath like last year, with no team clearly separating from the pack, then we should see plenty of SEC teams back in the field.
Either way, the SEC should fare better than only one Sweet 16 team from last season. Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee are all in potential position to earn great seeds and make runs and there are plenty of dangerous second-tier teams who could get hot at the right time.
2. Tennessee captures the SEC title
The SEC race is going to be a close one given how talented the league is at the top. But Tennessee has the difference of having arguably the two best players in the conference in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
The key for Tennessee could come down to guard play. Jordan Bone has been better than last season but he’s still struggling to shoot from the perimeter. Jordan Bowden has actually been slightly worse than last year — particularly shooting the ball from deep. And the SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lamonte Turner, has only played in three games this season as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.
As long as Williams and Schofield keep playing at this level, and Tennessee’s perimeter attack can make some timely plays and shots, then the Vols should be in position to claim another SEC regular season title.
3. Florida makes a big push after a strange start
One of this season’s most perplexing teams has been the Florida Gators. Sitting at 8-4 with tremendous computer numbers thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule, it’s tough to get a read on Florida at this point in the season.
We know that Florida is one of best defensive teams in the country. The Gators turn you over and throw waves of bodies at you thanks to their depth and athleticism. It’s offense that’s the issue. Florida doesn’t have a go-to scorer and nobody on the roster seems like a natural takeover guy.
There are currently an astounding eight players averaging between 10.3 points and 6.6 points per game on this roster right now. If a veteran guard like KeVaughn Allen or Jalen Hudson starts to figure things out as a scorer, then Florida should elevate to another level.
Both Allen and Hudson have averaged at least 14.0 points per game over a full college season before, so it’s certainly possible. I believe that Florida gets one of those guys rolling and becomes a dangerous team heading into March.