On the night of Oct. 2, 2021, the Texas A&M football team was in shambles after falling 0-2 in SEC play with a home loss to unranked Mississippi State. Just a Saturday later, that same A&M team would dethrone the top Alabama Crimson Tide. Moments after the score was final, a tsunami of students flooded the pitch. In an instant, all the criticism that haunted the program disappeared into the brown scramble covering the turf.
A few months later, men’s basketball has the chance to repeat this moment.
After a 15-2 start to the season, the wheels fell off for the Aggies. The team dropped its last seven SEC games to fall to 15-9 overall and 4-7 in SEC play. Four of those seven losses were by two possessions or less, and the biggest margin of loss was just 11 points.
Most recently, the Aggies suffered a 76-68 loss at home to the LSU Tigers. With the score tied at 11 in the first half, A&M gave up a 25-5 run and went into the half with a 36-16 deficit. In the second half, the Aggies seemed to solve some of their problems, but late efficiency from the free throw line helped the Tigers fend off a late comeback.
After the loss, A&M coach Buzz Williams said the game was a two-half story, adding that the inconsistent effort in the early stages of the game shows he needs to improve in as a coach.
“It’s a reflection on me,” Williams said. “I have to do a better job so that we play with the necessary energy from start to finish.”
The Aggies have found offensive productivity through several different players throughout the season. Graduate goaltender Quenton Jackson leads the scoring off the bench with 13 ppg and sophomore forward
Henry Coleman III adds another 11 points per game on average. After receiving limited playing time in the first half of the season, sophomore guard Hayden Hefner shot 5-for-6 from the bottom of a loss to Missouri but was limited to just one. point in 14 minutes against LSU.
Auburn heads into the game with a nearly flawless resume. The juggernaut ranked No. 1 in the latest AP poll with a 22-2 record and has recorded wins over LSU, Alabama and Kentucky.
While Auburn has been a force this season, its recent outings have shown signs of weakness. On February 5, the Tigers defeated Georgia with a 74-72 victory. They followed up the lackluster performance with their second blemish of the season: an 80-76 road loss to Arkansas.
After the Razorbacks upset, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said in the past two games that his team lacked the teamwork and chemistry needed to make a Final Four contender.
“For us, it’s always the sum of our parts when we play well,” Pearl said. “When we don’t – how it has been the last two games – there are two or three guys who carry us. We need more balance, and for some reason we haven’t had it.
Although Auburn is coming off a rough patch on the road, there’s no reason to believe the Tigers won’t find their stride back home. They boast some of the most intense goalscoring in the country, with four players averaging double-digit points. Senior striker Jabari Smith leads the pack, averaging 15.5 per game, including 43.3% lethal from deep. Senior forward Walker Kessler is a force on both ends of the court, scoring 11.6 points per game and ranking second in the nation in blocks, averaging 4.22 per game.
Williams acknowledged that Auburn’s talent and experience will be no small challenge for the Aggies, but a competitive performance would be an indicator of what the team is capable of all season long.
“[Playing Auburn] will be another great test to see if we can respond from an energy perspective,” Williams said. “You can argue that they are the most talented team in the country with the most NBA prospects. This is all good because it will give us a gauge. Will the vibe and environment change us for good or bad?”
The game will take place at Auburn Arena on February 12. Tipping is due at 11 a.m.