Thursday February 11th, 2016

The past two weeks of Texas A&M basketball, losers of four consecutive SEC games, can be summed up by a pair of free-throw attempts, or more accurately, a pair of missed free throws.

Aggies senior guard Anthony Collins, the SEC’s most accurate free-throw shooter at 93.8%, had missed just two of his first 32 free throw attempts this season. With No. 15 Texas A&M trailing Alabama, 63–62, on the road Wednesday night, Collins drove to the rim and drew a foul with 2.3 seconds left in the game. With a chance to seal the win and stanch the bleeding of the last few games, Collins clanked his 33rd and 34th free-throw attempts of the year off the rim and Texas A&M left Tuscaloosa winless in the SEC since Jan. 23. The odds of Collins missing both at the line given his consistency? Roughly 1 in 200.

Collins’s second attempt caromed off the back iron then out of bounds and was last touched by Texas A&M. Alabama coach Avery Johnson called a timeout and drew up a baseball pass to a streaking Retin Obasohan to run out the clock, securing a victory for the Crimson Tide and the Aggies’ third loss of the month.

Brynn Anderson/AP

“Danuel House and Jalen Jones are just terrific players,” Johnson said after the game.

The duo was deserving of Johnson’s praise, combining for 33 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort. However, the rest of the Aggies only contributed 29 points and 14 rebounds.

Texas A&M’s second-half run was too little, too late. House and senior guard Alex Caruso were each just 0-for-1 shooting in the first half for zero combined points. Caruso finished with two points and six turnovers.

“We haven’t been together like Texas A&M,” Johnson continued, referring to the Aggies’ quartet of seniors in their starting lineup. “It’s just fun to be a part of a night like tonight.”

Alabama’s fun was at the expense of Texas A&M, which finds itself at a crossroads.

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To fully understand its struggles, rewind to two weeks ago, when the Aggies earned a program-best No. 5 ranking in the AP poll. Since then, A&M has lost three consecutive games and four of its last five after losing to Alabama.

After a 7–0 start in conference play, the Aggies have slid to a tie for fourth place with Florida, albeit only one game behind a three-team tie for first place. Unfortunately for Billy Kennedy & Co., Texas A&M’s next few games aren’t going to be easy. Two of its next three games are at LSU and home against Kentucky.

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The Aggies’ struggles are a combination of a tough stretch in its schedule with three of its last five games on the road, poor late-game execution and perhaps an overestimation of just how good this team really is.

Arkansas’s Bud Walton Arena is known as tough road environment, Vanderbilt was a preseason top-25 team with two potential first-round draft picks, South Carolina was No. 25 in the AP poll and Alabama had previously picked off three ranked opponents before taking down the Aggies on Wednesday.

Three of Texas A&M’s past four losses were by a combined seven points and the Aggies sputtered down the stretch in each. Not to mention they finished 3 of 10 from the field with four turnovers in the final 8:53 against the Razorbacks to start the skid.

Against South Carolina, A&M suffered a field-goal drought from 7:36 to 1:03 in the second half—a span in which it was 0 of 7 from the field with three turnovers. Down by three, the Aggies had two more possessions in the final seconds with chances to tie the game. House missed a three on the first and Caruso turned the ball over on the game’s final possession.

Then Collins’s rare missed free throws took the wind out of A&M’s sails after the Aggies had nearly erased in 11-point deficit in the final six minutes against Alabama.

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Maybe Texas A&M’s water is simply in the midst of finding its own level. The Aggies’ recent performances don’t indicate a team worthy of a No. 5 national ranking (or maybe a ranking of any kind after this week), but they’re also a team that recorded a double-digit win over No. 14 Iowa State just 10 days ago. Throw nonconference wins over Texas, Gonzaga and Baylor into the mix and Texas A&M nearly has a quality win for every loss on its resume.

With roughly a month left in the regular season, first place in the SEC is well within the Aggies’ grasp and they’ll soon face two of the three teams ahead them in the conference standings. Plus, five of their seven remaining regular-season games come against teams with records of .500 or worse in SEC play, so they should easily eclipse the 20-win mark.

As Johnson said, the Crimson Tide are the ones having fun on Wednesday, but with Texas A&M’s senior-led roster and opportunistic schedule to finish the year, there is still fun to be had down the road for the Aggies if they can find it.

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