Aggies’ mindset: Win SEC tournament
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Wade Taylor IV had barely broken a sweat when a Tennessee player caused the Texas A&M guard to grow heated between the ears early in the Aggies’ five-point win over the then-No. 11 Volunteers last month at Reed Arena.
“One of the dudes on the bench said, ‘Thanks for the ring last year in the tournament,’ ” Taylor said. “That kind of stuck with me the whole game. You’re still talking about last year?”
Tennessee beat A&M in last year’s SEC tournament title game, and the Aggies narrowly missed on the NCAA Tournament as a result. Afterward, the Volunteers received SEC tournament title rings, jewelry the No. 18 Aggies reason they’re in a decent position to receive in 2023.
“Our goal when we played Florida (in their 2022 SEC tournament opener) was, ‘Let’s win the whole thing,’ ” A&M forward Henry Coleman III recalled of the Aggies’ approach a season ago. “That’s the same mindset now. It’s a little bit different. We’re a little bit of the hunted instead of the hunters, but we need to keep that mindset that we’re still hunting in a way. … We still have a ton to prove, and we’re still super determined, and this team is still super hungry.”
Second-seeded A&M (23-8) will take on 10thseeded Arkansas, which beat seventh-seeded Auburn 76-73 on Thursday night, at 6 p.m. Friday at Bridgestone Arena in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. The Aggies, who have won eight of their last nine games, earned one of the tournament’s four double-byes and should have fresher legs than last year, when they played in the tournament’s second round for starters.
“Our mindset is winning the SEC tournament,” A&M forward Julius Marble said. “Those two days (without games) really help, and now we’re getting back to grind mode and working on us and what we need to do.”
Marble said he loves the idea of A&M perhaps exacting a little revenge in the SEC tournament. The Aggies (15-3 in SEC play) tied a 100-year-old school record for league wins, and their three SEC losses all were on the road to Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Should the Aggies beat Arkansas on Friday, they’ll face Kentucky or Vanderbilt in the semifinals Saturday afternoon.
“Kentucky beat us, and there are certain games you only played a team once, and then you’re able to maybe see them again,” Marble said of perhaps getting a rematch with the Wildcats in front of what’s sure to be a partisan Kentucky crowd in Bridgestone Arena. “They beat us, and I would like to see them again. That’s an opportunity you (usually) don’t have in the NCAA Tournament, but in league tournaments you do. You get to see a team again that might have beat you earlier in the season.”
The Aggies started the season 6-5 in nonconference play, with a home loss to Wofford the low point on Dec. 20.
“That was probably the best thing that happened to us, honestly,” Marble said of the startling setback to the Terriers. “We went home on (Christmas) break and all had a gut check. … We had to figure out what kind of team we wanted to be. We came back, and everyone knew what they needed to do, and we had a new sense of energy and juice.”
Under fourth-year coach Buzz Williams, A&M rebounded to win 17 of its last 20 games and enter the postseason as one of the nation’s hottest teams. The Aggies have played in six Sweet 16s of the NCAA Tournament, the latest in 2018 under Billy Kennedy, but have never advanced to an Elite Eight.
They’re also aware college basketball’s roving promised land this season is exactly 101 miles from Reed Arena, with Houston hosting the Final Four at NRG Stadium. Williams said the Aggies were “left for dead” in December because of the 6-5 start that included losses to Murray State, Colorado and Boise State, and Coleman could not blame skeptics of the program over the holidays.
“If you were to take a time machine (to December) and told me at this point we were going to be 15-3 (in SEC play), I wouldn’t even have believed you,” Coleman said. “But our daily commitments and daily habits are the reasons why we’re here now. We were always in the moment … and our daily work and our daily habits created this team and created this success.”