COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M is back to playing the way it did in earning a high ranking prior to league action, and that should earn the attention of the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
“They’ve got their team back together,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said of the suddenly-surging Aggies. “There’s a reason why they were top five in the country.”
A&M junior guard Admon Gilder scored 15 points and the Aggies dominated South Carolina from the start, winning 83-60 on Saturday in Reed Arena. The Aggies (15-8, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) led 49-27 at half, in shooting 63 percent (17 of 27) from the field in the first 20 minutes. The Gamecocks (13-10, 4-6) shot 21.1 percent (8 of 38) in the same span, as A&M blasted to the 22-point lead. A&M finished 29 of 55 from the field, good for 53 percent.
“It makes a big difference when you’ve got guys who are healthy,” said A&M coach Billy Kennedy, whose team was wrought with injuries and suspensions late in nonconference play and early in SEC action. “Especially when you’re playing against a physical team like South Carolina.”
A&M has won its last two games against Arkansas and South Carolina by a combined 37 points. Justin Minaya scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Gamecocks.
A&M sophomore forward Robert Williams collected a season-high five blocks, to go with 11 points, and the Aggies’ 11 total blocks were one shy of the team record.
“It’s just hustle,” Williams said of his team-high 47 blocks this season. “I know my team is depending on me to get my blocks, and make those plays.”
A&M dominated South Carolina in points in the paint (40 to 18) and on the fast break (17-4).
“We were in attack mode from the beginning of the game,” Kennedy said. “That was a big key.”
The Aggies won their second straight game and fourth consecutive home game in inching back to respectability in the SEC.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks looked a long way from their Final Four appearance of last season in the blowout loss. South Carolina entered the game at .500 on the road in SEC contests, but wasn’t in this one from the start. The Gamecocks are trying to make the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
Texas A&M: The Aggies looked like the team that had risen to No. 5 nationally leading into SEC play, before they lost their first five league games because of the injuries and suspensions. Performances like the one on Saturday, despite A&M still owning a losing record in SEC action, are why analysts like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi project A&M in the NCAA Tournament as a 10th seed as of this week.
STAT OF THE DAY
Frank Martin’s teams are known for their aggressiveness on defense, but it was A&M with the hustle on Saturday in nearly tripling South Carolina in steals (11 to 4).
Robert Williams swatted a Justin Minaya 3-point attempt into the crowd with 6:50 remaining in the first half, and Williams was so thrilled by the block he joined the crowd in clapping.
The Aggies wore replica jerseys from the 1969 Southwest Conference champions, of course it was the throwback to the most recent holidays with the team’s high-revving performance that most intrigued the more than 10,000 fans on hand.
Both teams wore shirts during warm-ups advocating autism awareness. A&M strength coach Darby Rich’s six-year-old son, Case, is autistic and considers the A&M players like older brothers.
HE SAID IT
“We had no resolve to fight their talent. They took it to us, simple as that.” — Frank Martin on the Aggies.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are on the road for a second straight time when they play at Arkansas on Tuesday.
Texas A&M: Following consecutive home games, the Aggies’ schedule strengthens in a hurry with a game at league-leading and No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday.