No. 20 A&M beats Vanderbilt, clinches No. 1 seed in SEC
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M can claim something it hasn't been able to in 30 years: a regular-season conference championship.
''I'm just at a loss for words,'' senior Jalen Jones said following the No. 20 Aggies' 76-67 victory over Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale.
He wasn't at a loss for points, however, as he scored 17 points and A&M clinched the No. 1 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Freshmen Tyler Davis added 16 for the Aggies (24-7, 13-5 SEC), who had not won a conference crown since winning the Southwest Conference title in 1986. They captured their share of the SEC title, along with Kentucky, in their fourth season in the league.
''It's just overwhelming right now, all the adversity we faced during conference and all the hard work that we put in during the summer,'' Jones said. ''To win the conference championship feels great, and we've got to continue to build on this and get other championships as well.''
Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones each scored 11 points for Vanderbilt (19-12, 11-7 SEC). Jones played only 19 minutes after getting in foul trouble.
The Aggies dominated the Commodores in points in the paint (40-22), points off turnovers (27-14) and fast-break points (8-0).
''I'm thankful to be a part of such a special run, and I'm proud of our guys,'' A&M fifth-year coach Billy Kennedy said. ''We did it the way that I wanted to do it, with toughness and defense.''
The Aggies and Commodores started slowly, and the game was tied at 12 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. The offenses picked up the pace over the next eight minutes, and Vanderbilt led 30-29 with 3:46 remaining in the half.
But the Aggies, buoyed by a 3-pointer from freshman D.J. Hogg, closed out the first-half scoring on a 10-2 run to take a 39-32 lead at the break. A&M then kept Vanderbilt at arms' length the remainder of the game, increasing its lead to as many as 20 points about midway through the second half.
The Aggies defined streakiness this season, winning their first seven league games, losing their next five and winning their last six to close out the regular season. In this one, A&M avenged a 77-60 loss at Vanderbilt on Feb. 4, the Aggies' worst loss of the season.
''We knew this was going to be tough, and I was really proud of our guys for hanging in there and fighting,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said of playing in such an emotional environment. ''We didn't get it done. We tried hard, our guys played hard, we just got outplayed.''
It was an eventful afternoon in College Station. Less than an hour after the basketball game, former President George H.W. Bush threw out the first pitch before a Yale-A&M baseball game across the street at Blue Bell Park. Bush played baseball for Yale and his presidential library is in College Station.
The teams were nearly even in field-goal percentage. The Aggies shot 43.5 percent (27 of 62) from the field while the Commodores shot 43.4 percent (23 of 53). . A&M shot more than twice as many free throws as Vanderbilt, but the Commodores were much more accurate. Vanderbilt made all 11 of its free-throw attempts, while the Aggies were 16 of 23.
The Aggies cut down the nets afterward, a first for Reed Arena. The last time that happened in College Station was in now-demolished Reed Arena in 1986. . A&M senior Danuel House, a transfer from Houston two years ago, was crying on the court as he thrust an SEC sign in the air to a roar from the crowd. ... Six Aggies played their final home games, including starters Jones, House, Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins.
Texas A&M: Plays in the SEC tournament on Friday.
Vanderbilt: Plays in the SEC tournament on a date TBD.