COLLEGE STATION — Everything is about improving in the world of sports. And with a new head coach, perhaps it's best to look at the little things.
But winning five out of the last seven games, including a top 25 road victory? Yeah, Buzz Williams should be looking past those little things. Those moments are prominent for the future.
Texas A&M could have been gearing up for a game as we enter a week without sports. Instead, like the rest of the country, they will remain at home as the on-spread of COVID-19 is hopefully contained.
Much like the efforts being made to protect the athletes, Williams is encouraged the trials and tribulations of his first season will be a building block for future rosters.
“The thing I’m most excited about is everyone in our program believes in how we go about things,” Williams said via conference call. “Everyone who is part of our program going forward is aware of that process and embraced it. You don’t typically find it as strong as we were able to do in the last 50 or 60 days.”
The Aggies looked to be on the move early, winning three of their first four games. Then, a clean sweep in the Orlando Invitational plus a loss to Texas in Frisco set the roster back to the drawing board, looking for a slam dunk play to send them on the right track.
Much like their out of conference schedule, the Aggies struggled internally. Following a blowout victory by Florida, A&M was sitting at 5-6 in conference play. Inconsistencies on offense and poor three-point shooting sent the Ags spiraling out of control.
It was after a loss in October where Williams laid down the line. Strict to the point, the first-year coach's message certainly stuck in the heart of every maroon and white player.
“I told them after we got beat by Fairfield, ‘Congratulations. You’re now the worst Power 5 team in the country'," Williams said. "I think it just flushed out whatever residue of junk was left."
Then, just like a turnover off a steal, things started going the Aggies' way.
"Our guys got to the point they were excited to work either in the film room or in practice with no coaching related to effort anymore, no coaching related to attitude or body language,” Williams said. “When a coach has to coach those things, you’ve got a long way to go. When you can coach things other than that, you’re further down the path.”
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Consistent play came from senior star Josh Nebo around the paint. Freshman Emanuel Miller became a pivotal part of both sides of the court. Even those like Wendell Mitchell and Savion Flagg, who never were on the same page at the same time, made up for the other's lack of production.
Mitchell averaged 16.1 points in the last seven games, while Flagg averaged 13. Junior college transfer Quenton Jackson, perhaps best known for his highlight plays, added more fuel to the A&M's offense. He'd average 11.7 points in that stretch.
Things became smooth for a team that remained in the cellar of all SEC rankings. With proper shooting, standout moments and perhaps some luck, the Aggies began to take down team after team, falling just short to Kentucky at home and taking their second loss to LSU.
When the final buzzer rang inside Reed Arena, the Aggies would claim one last win against Arkansas. Projected to finish 12th in the conference last October, the team would enter a two-way tie with South Carolina for a sixth-place finish.
They would head to Nashville as the No.7 seed, waiting to face a potential trio of Tigers and fight for their right to dance the night away in a tournament.
And just like that, the season was over. Nothing left to do but head back to College Station and pack up a locker room and wonder what could have been.
“Our kids were excited to play. Our kids wanted to play,” the Aggies' coach said. “I told them the truth. I told them if we win one, we’re coming home, and it’s the end of the season. If we win two, I don’t know. If we’re playing in a third game, we’ll see.”
In times of crisis, people will gather to those they love most. Finding a solstice in one's company, the Aggies began their bond with a loss in the Sunshine State to a sub-200 NET roster.
And it's that bond of camaraderie that has Williams eager to return to the court for the start of 2020.
“This pause we can’t control,” Williams said. “But we couldn’t have ended on a better note. Whenever we get to go back to work, I hope we’re able to resume where we left off.”