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Texas A&M Makes Case For Team To Beat In SEC

The Aggies could be more than just another SEC program in 2023.

After 80 minutes of action in the previous two weeks, Florida coach Todd Golden could sum up Texas A&M men's basketball in a sentence. 

“They’re playing like one of the top 15 teams in the country right now,” Golden said Wednesday night in the visiting press room at Reed Arena. 

This is a new version of Texas A&M hoops. A better one. One with more promise and potential entering the second half of the season. Last year, the Aggies likely would have dropped a close matchup against the Gators by blowing a second-half lead late. 

Not this year. Not this Aggies’ team. This a version of A&M handled business in Wednesday evening, besting the Gators 54-52 at home. With the win, the Aggies should reach a top 25 ranking in the Associated Press Poll on Monday afternoon. 

“They made it tough for us, and we made it tough for them,” forward Julius Marble said. “That’s how it’s supposed to be.” 

Nothing comes easy in the Southeastern Conference for those looking to prove their worth. This time a season ago, the Aggies (13-5 5-0 SEC) were coming off their first conference loss against Arkansas. It would eventually lead to a six-game losing streak, ultimately playing a factor in Texas A&M’s tournament chances despite a surge late in the year. 

This year, Golden might be onto something. The Aggies look like a top-15 program. Shots have come easy. The defense is dynamic. Young players are finding roles while the veterans are stepping up in critical moments. 

With a seventh consecutive win, Texas A&M is on its longest winning streak since 2016. That year under Billy Kennedy, the Aggies made the NCAA Tournament and pushed their way into a Sweet Sixteen appearance. 

“I don’t know what the ceiling is,” fourth-year coach Buzz Williams said. “(But) I’m thankful for the first two and a half weeks.” 

Defensive play has been the story for the Aggies as of late. Led by Dexter Dennis and Marble, Texas A&M held both No.20 Missouri and South Carolina to under 40 percent from the field goal range earlier in the week. On Wednesday, they held the Gators to 26.2 percent in the paint. 

Dennis, a senior transfer from Wichita State, finished with a team-high 16 rebounds to match his 11 points. Marble led all scorers with 19 points, while Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford finished with eight apiece. 

Again, nothing comes easy in the SEC. That Aggies nearly learned that the hard way with seconds remaining on the clock. Tyrece Radford broke free following a block against UF’s Colin Castleton to slam back a highlight dunk with eight seconds on the clock, extending Texas A&M’s lead to five.

At that point, Marble said the program got into its head, and it nearly cost them the win. 

“We got caught up in the “rah, rah and we let it affect us on defense,” he said. 

Florida (10-8, 3-3 SEC) moved quickly down to the court to try for a 3-pointer by Myreon Jones. The ball landed through and Texas A&M’s lead dropped from five to two. Seconds later, the Aggies committed a costly turnover, but Dennis kept Jones at bay as time expired and the crowd of over 12,000 exhaled. 

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“I put Andy in a bad spot,” Williams said. “Four (point guard Wade Taylor IV) wasn’t in the game. We need Four in a full-court situation. I knew I had two timeouts. I should have called a timeout. That was an unneeded turnover caused by poor coaching.”

Williams said the atmosphere of playing in front of a packed house did wonders for the team’s mojo, especially in the closing minutes, where everything remained a mystery. 

“The environment was off the chart,” Williams said. "It changes the environment at Reed when we have that level of support.”

The start of a new calendar year is made for fresh beginnings. Under Williams, the Aggies are creating new traditions. Ones that benefit the program in its quest to March Madness. 

So far, the Aggies ended two long-standing losing streaks — a seven-game skid against the Gators and a six-year slump against LSU — defeated a top 20 program and picked up a 20-plus point win over South Carolina. Thanks to Wednesday’s win, Florida now begins its time in the loser’s circle against the Aggies' long term. 

Marble, a Michigan State transfer, said postgame that the difference between an undefeated record in conference play and an 8-5 finish against non-conference opponents is based on the level of competition.

“It just means a whole lot more,” Marble said. “Every game is going to be a battle and you have to stay focus throughout.” 

It just means more is the mantra of the SEC. And while the league lives by the four words as a whole, Texas A&M has embraced it over the past month. 

Perhaps that’s why. Golden can see top-15 potential in Williams’ squad. Then again, Williams saw it well before tip-off Wednesday evening. 

"There’s been lessons that have been learned from each of those. I think we tried to prioritize those lessons, and I think our guys are understanding those lessons. I think they’re executing those lessons.”

The Aggies hit the road for the next week with two road games against Kentucky and No. 16 Auburn. Tip-off from Lexington is set for 1 p.m.

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