Reed Arena | College Station, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #210
With just 34 days to Selection Sunday, the margin for error is razor thin for the Texas Longhorns. Five of the team’s remaining eight games come against squads that are even with or below them in the standings, although four of those come on the road. Had Texas actually come up with a victory in one of the many close contests they had with the league’s top teams, it could afford a stumble down the stretch. Instead, the Longhorns will have to turn into road warriors over these last four weeks of the regular season.
The first of those road tests comes tonight, in the form of the Texas A&M Aggies. Reed Arena has been a tough place for the Longhorns to win, with last year’s victory being the first in College Station in the team’s last seven trips. While Texas A&M has struggled with injuries and transfers this season, the Aggies have been a resilient bunch, and you can be sure that the fans will be loud for what will be the last regular-season meeting between these two rivals for quite some time.
Meet the Aggies
The first game
Foul trouble for Myck Kabongo and a gimpy ankle for J’Covan Brown only made the stifling A&M defense even tougher when these teams met at the Erwin Center on January 11th. The Longhorns managed just two field goals in the first ten minutes of the game, yet still held a lead for much of the first half. Julien Lewis ended up leading Texas in scoring, having his best game of the season with 16 points on a 6-of-10 line, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark behind the arc.
A&M’s Ray Turner battled foul trouble for much of the game, earning the DQ in only 10 minutes on the floor. That left David Loubeau and Keith Davis as the only frontcourt threats for the Aggies, and Texas took advantage. Loubeau was held to just 10 points, while Davis was skunked, and Texas’ pairing of Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene combined for 16 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks.
The first meeting between these two teams was painfully slow. With just 61 possessions, it was the second-slowest contest for Texas all season, with only the UCLA game having a more lethargic tempo. The Aggies average just 63.4 possessions per game, one of the 50 slowest rates in the nation. The Longhorns aren’t much quicker, checking in at 65.7 per game. Big 10 fans will be thrilled with tonight’s contest, which will likely be another brutal, slow-down affair.
If Texas A&M’s season weren’t already rough enough, the Aggies have had to deal with even more injuries in Big 12 play. Khris Middleton has missed the last four games as his knee injury has flared up, and he will be inactive again tonight. Senior point guard Dash Harris hurt his ankle just before half of the game against Kansas, and has missed the three games since then. He will also miss tonight’s game, according to coach Billy Kennedy.
Despite the injuries, the Aggies have been very competitive over the last two weeks. Without Middleton and with Harris hobbled for half the game, A&M fought the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse until the final minutes. The Aggies also had a home win over Baylor within their grasp last Wednesday, but lost the lead and the game in the final seconds.
Although Texas A&M has posted a 3-4 record since playing Texas in Austin, the Aggies have actually looked better over the last two weeks. With just seven players left in the core rotation, it seems like this bunch has rallied together to play its best basketball with its back against the wall.
A big part of the team’s ability to compete without its two leaders is the emergence of freshman Daniel Alexander (No. 20), who has stepped up over the last two weeks. After averaging just 5.4 minutes in the team’s first 18 games, the freshman has seen his average increase to 26 minutes in the last four contests. At 6’9″, Alexander boasts a three-point threat that helps to spread the floor for Texas A&M. In the team’s two impressive performances against Kansas and Baylor, Alexander made a big impact with 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
Keys to the game
1) Attack the paint – The Longhorns won the battle for points in the paint the first time these teams met, outscoring the Aggies 20-12 in the lane. Although the Aggie defense did a good job pressuring beyond the perimeter, the Longhorns were still able to get a piece of the paint on the bounce and find teammates down low for good looks. With the Aggie roster even more thin this time around, that aggressiveness is not only important to earn easy points, but also to put the small A&M rotation in foul trouble.
With Brown back to full health, we’ll likely see much more dribble penetration this time around. If Kabongo can also avoid the frustration fouls that put him on the bench in the first game, the Texas guards could be the key to earning a road win tonight.
2) Crash the glass – Texas A&M did an excellent job on the boards in the first game, limiting a Texas team that has been quite good at reclaiming its missed shots. The Longhorns typically grab 39.7% of their missed shots, but were able to get to just 23.1% of their offensive board opportunities against the Aggies. In a game that will likely have very few possessions, Texas has to maximize the value of every single one. Extending possessions with offensive boards and earning easy points on putbacks will be key to grinding out a victory over A&M.
3) Own the perimeter – While rebounds will be incredibly important in a low-possession game, three-pointers will also be huge. It’s likely that this game finishes in the 50’s or low 60’s, so the boost of a three-point bucket in this game will be even more valuable. Alexander adds an extra three-point threat that the Aggies didn’t have when the teams met in Austin, while Elston Turner is always dangerous from long range. He went just 2-for-7 in the first meeting, which would be an acceptable line for the Longhorns to allow tonight. If he, Alexander, or Naji Hibbert suddenly get the hot hand, Texas could be in serious trouble. The Longhorns don’t necessarily need to chase shooters off the perimeter, but they do need to be in position to at least challenge all of those outside looks.