As Vanderbilt goes through a season of unmet expectations, Texas A&M continues to exceed its own.
The No. 8 Aggies look to hold on to sole possession of first place in the SEC while the host Commodores try to boost their fading NCAA Tournament hopes Thursday night.
Offensive inconsistency and a challenging schedule have combined to render Vanderbilt (12-9, 4-4), ranked 18th in the preseason Top 25, among the season's biggest disappointments. The Commodores have been especially hurt by an inability to win big games, going 0-5 against ranked teams to continue a trend.
Vanderbilt, 0-13 against Top 25 opponents since upsetting then-No. 1 Kentucky in the 2012 SEC Tournament title game, came up short in another high-profile matchup with Saturday's 72-58 loss at Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Commodores trailed by 17 during a 16-point first half and struggled to defend the smaller and quicker Longhorns, who owned a 40-18 advantage in the paint and shot 26 free throws to Vanderbilt's 10.
"I think that was the difference in the game, their ability to draw fouls and capitalize and our inability to draw fouls and not capitalize," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said.
A leg injury to leading scorer Wade Baldwin IV midway through the first half further damaged Vanderbilt's chances to come back, though the NBA prospect is expected to play Thursday.
The Commodores have lost two of three since winning three straight league games Jan. 12-20 and have shot 39.5 percent over the last five. That doesn't bode well heading into a critical contest with Texas A&M (18-3, 7-1), the conference leader in scoring defense at 64.1 points per game and turnovers forced at 15.9.
The Aggies scored 21 points off 16 Iowa State turnovers and shut down the then-No. 14 Cyclones down the stretch Saturday, going on a 16-4 run over the final 4:04 to earn a 72-62 win for coach Billy Kennedy's 300th victory.
Texas A&M also received a big lift from Danuel House in crunch time, with the senior scoring 12 of his 20 points during the pivotal run.
"He took over, and what was really good with him is he was patient," Kennedy said. "He didn't force anything, he made a big shot and he let us run stuff and get him the ball in the right places. He did a heck of a job being disciplined and being patient and making the right plays."
House has averaged 20.3 points over a three-game stretch in which the Aggies have shot 39.2 percent overall and 27.4 on 3-pointers. They're hitting 40.6 percent on the road compared to 47.5 in other games.
Those struggles could continue as Vanderbilt leads Division I in 3-point percentage defense at 27.5 and has held opponents to 38.1 percent on field goals, tops in the SEC.
The Commodores are 9-2 at Memorial Gym, where the Aggies haven't won in two previous visits as an SEC member.
Texas A&M posted a 69-58 home victory over Vanderbilt on Jan. 31, 2015, shooting 53.2 percent and limiting Damian Jones to seven points and 2 of 11 from the floor.
Jones scored a season-high 26 with nine rebounds against Texas after a 20-point, 12-board effort in a 60-59 win over Florida on Jan. 26.