COLLEGE STATION (AP) – For all of its road troubles, Texas A&M resembles a postseason-worthy team when playing at home. Unfortunately for the Aggies, that’s only half the battle in the Southeastern Conference.
The Aggies defeated Alabama 63-48 on Thursday night in Reed Arena, in earning their third consecutive double-digit victory on their home court. A&M, desperately trying to make the postseason for the first time in coach Billy Kennedy’s three seasons, had blown a double-digit lead last Saturday in a 57-54 overtime loss at Vanderbilt.
“Our guys did a good job of bouncing back from a tough game,” Kennedy said Thursday.
The Aggies (15-11, 6-7 SEC) led the Crimson Tide by a point at halftime (24-23) but built a 10-point lead over the first 10 minutes of the second half thanks to a combined 17 points from Jamal Jones and guard Alex Caruso. Jones led the Aggies with 19 points and Caruso added 14, the only two A&M players to score in double digits.
“In the second half we did a good job of attacking in transition and sharing the ball,” Kennedy said. “We got some loose balls and made the extra pass. We played like a team should play.”
A&M, despite losing six straight SEC road games, has come on strong of late in Reed (including triumphs of 72-52 over Mississippi State on Feb. 5 and 83-73 over LSU on Feb. 12). The difference between the Aggies at home and on the road? Kennedy whittled it down to one word: “Experience.”
“And hopefully we’ve gained some experience now,” the former Murray State boss added.
The reeling Crimson Tide (10-16, 4-9), led by guard Trevor Releford’s game-high 20 points, lost their second consecutive contest and have dropped six of their last seven under fifth-year coach Anthony Grant.
“A&M was the better team,” Grant said. “In the second half their energy was better than ours. They built a lead and we weren’t able to overcome it.”
Despite overall subpar shooting from the field (41 percent), A&M counted on a better hand from the 3-point line (6 of 14) in winning for the first time against Alabama as an SEC member.
“That (Vanderbilt) game was a tough loss for us, so we just wanted to come out and throw the first punch,” said A&M guard Shawn Smith, who scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds. “We wanted to play hard and show everybody that we have a nice team this year. It was all about learning how to stay consistent.”
A&M dominated Alabama in second-chance points (16-4), points in the paint (32-18), offensive rebounds (12-6), and bench scoring (15-6). Smith and the Aggies keyed in defensively on Releford, Alabama’s top scorer, and his teammates failed to step up in response. The Crimson Tide lost their ninth consecutive road game this season (including two non-conference contests).
“It’s remarkable that he goes out there every night and is still able to produce, with the attention he gets from opposing teams,” Grant said. “He’s always going to compete and give this team a chance.”
The Aggies aim for their fourth consecutive SEC victory at home when they play host to Tennessee on Saturday, while Alabama plays host to Missouri the same day. Grant said he was especially disappointed in his team’s defensive effort against the likes of Jones, who made 3 of 7 3-pointers in pacing the Aggies.
“He really asserted himself in the first half, and I thought he did a really good job of finding gaps in our defense,” Grant said of Jones, a junior-college transfer who leads the Aggies with 13 points per game. “To be able to win in this league, you’ve got to be able to get defensive stops. It’s hard to win in this league.”
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