STARKVILLE, Miss. — Before every road game, the Texas A&M men’s basketball team takes a picture on the opposing team’s court to memorialize the trip. If the Aggies win the game, that picture gets hung on the “culture wall” inside A&M’s basketball facilities.
Aggie head coach Buzz Williams will be purchasing the first frame of the season after his squad reversed a 10-point deficit to beat Mississippi State 56-55 on Wednesday in Southeastern Conference play at Humphrey Coliseum.
A&M used a 13-0 run at the beginning of the second half to erased Mississippi State’s lead. Later, two Andre Gordon buckets as time wound down helped seal the victory. A&M guard Jay Jay Chandler called it the best half of basketball the Aggies have played this season.
“We executed every play that the coaches called,” Chandler said. “We shot open shots when everyone on the team knew that person was going to shoot the ball. We got crazy offensive rebounds.”
With 2:38 left, Gordon snuck around the backside of the Mississippi State defense and caught an alley-oop pass from Savion Flagg for a dunk that gave A&M a 53-52 lead. Half a minute later, Gordon spotted up for a 3 off the dribble and sank it for the Aggies’ final points of the night.
“We actually called that play a couple of times in the first half, it just wasn’t open,” Gordon said of the dunk. “Towards the end of the game, it just kind of clicked. We had Savion in the right position. We had everyone where they needed to be, and it worked out towards the end of the game. I think it brought momentum towards the team. You get a dunk on the other end and it gets the defense a little hyped up and more momentum towards the end of the game.”
The win didn’t come without late drama.
With 57 seconds left and the Aggies holding a 56-54 lead, forward Jonathan Aku wrapped his arm around Mississippi State’s Jalen Johnson’s neck while attempting to pull in a rebound. After a review, Aku was called for a flagrant foul, which gave the Bulldogs two free throws and the ball.
Johnson missed his second free throw, and Aku got his retribution by pulling in a rebound after a missed shot on the next Bulldog possession.
A&M could not extend its lead due to a shot clock violation with seven seconds left, but the Aggies sealed the win with a defensive stop.
The Bulldogs used a 12-2 run midway through the first half to take a 20-12 lead. Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar racked up 12 points in the first half, leading to a 33-23 Bulldog lead at halftime.
In the second half, A&M shifted to a higher half-court defense then a full-court press. A&M limited Molinar to four points in the second half and outscored the Bulldogs in almost a reverse of the first half 33-22. A&M went 14-of-29 shooting from the field in the second half.
“If you makes some shots, it looks prettier,” Williams said. “Our statistics on the things that cause us grief weren’t just completely, outrageously better in the second half than the first half, but making shots overcomes that.”
A&M forward Emanuel Miller added four offensive rebounds in the second half as part of a dominating 17-rebound second half for the Aggies. Overall, A&M outrebounded Mississippi State 32-27.
Chandler led the Aggies with 12 points, followed by Gordon’s 11 and Miller with 10.
Molinar finished the game with a team-high 16 points.
A&M will host No. 17 Missouri on Saturday, and Williams said the key for the Aggies will be beginning the first half with the same energy and fight they showed in Wednesday’s second half.
“The numbers are not crazy better,” Williams said. “The numbers aren’t good enough to advance in the NCAA tournament better. But the togetherness and the spirit and the communication in which we fought, the things that can’t be counted, that’s why we won. Now it becomes, the next time we work are we going to start from this point or are we going to rewind and go through this song and dance again until we get everybody on the same page.”