Tennessee shot 50% from the floor compared to just 31% from the Aggies, but offensive rebounding and second-chance points allowed the Aggies to steal a much-needed win on the road.
Wendell Mitchell had a helluva night, leading the Aggies with 23 points on 5-of-20 shooting. he hit 4-of-14 from 3 and went 9-of-9 from the charity stripe, but his most important points came late in the second half after Jordan Bowden tied the game up at 53-53.
John Fulkerson led the way for the Vols with 15 points on his own. Four Vols had 10 or more points on the night, but it wasn’t enough to get the job done.
It took right around 2:00 for either team to find the first points of the game, but fortunately it was Yves Pons who knocked on down from the perimeter to give the Vols a 3-0 lead.
Both teams combined for a few more buckets, it was the Vols who lead 7-3 with 14:20 to go in the first half. It was an offensive struggle that saw the Vols and Aggies combine for a 4-13 margin until A&M guard Wendell Mitchell hit a jumper to make it a 7-5 game.
The first half was ugly. A&M carried a 25-24 lead heading into halftime, but it was any team’s game. The Vols and Aggies combined for a terrible 19-of-49 from the floor that also included a combined 6-of-24 from 3.
Tennessee wasn’t shooting well from the charity stripe and in a close game, that can easily come back to haunt you. Could the Vols a) get better at making shots from the foul line and b) would the those three missed points end up being the difference in the game?
Offensive rebounding was key for the Aggies. They dominated the boards in that regard, which allowed their stagnant offense to get extra opportunities. The Vols’ offense, on the other hand, was just as sluggish, but they weren’t crashing the boards like the Aggies’ offense was doing.
Tennessee started out the second half about as well as anyone could and were able to go on an 8-0 run re-take the lead, 32-24, with 18:15 left in the second half.
It all boiled down to the final 7:30 of the game. The Vols led, 44-43, as they tried to hold of the Aggies from taking the lead. They were able to get the lead out to a 46-43 margin, but a free throw and an Andre Gordon dunk allowed A&M to tie it up, 46-46. Gordon broke the tie a few possessions with a 3, but Texas A&M was called for goaltending right after, making it a one-point game with 4:45 remaining in the game.
A key moment came later as Santiago Vescovi missed a wide-open 3 to take the lead, and injury became insult as Fulkerson rebounded the miss and subsequently missed the easy put-back. The poor execution denied the Vols a chance at re-taking the lead.
It came back to bite them in the ass as two Josh Nebo free throws pushed the Aggies’ lead back to three points, but Yves Pons took advantage of some really soft Aggie defense and brought the game back within one point, 51-50, with a jumper of his own.
With just 2:30 to go, the Vols needed clutch defense and efficient offense but A&M wasn’t allowing in much. In fact, Nebo was able to hit a quick layup to push the lead back to three, and the defense was starting to clamp down. Life was getting much more difficult for the Vols and they were running out of time.
But the defense was able to get a couple of solid stops and Bowden nailed a 3 to tie the game up, 53-53 with just 1:08 left in the game, but Mitchell did his best Bowden impression and drained a fadeway 3 from the top of the key to put the Aggies back up, 56-53.
Tennessee had a chance to at least draw within one point, but Fulkerson was hit with a questionable offensive foul that gave the ball back to A&M and put Tennessee in a very, very tough spot.
The defense would need to come up with another huge stop, but due to the shot clock situation, the Vols had to resort to fouling the Aggies and hope that a team that usually struggles from the free throw would continue to do so in the final :34 seconds of the game.
It didn’t happen. Mitchell hit both of his attempts, which gave the Aggies a 58-53 lead with a little over :20 to go in the game. The Vols couldn’t do anything on their next possession so unless A&M choked on these last two free throws, the game was over barring a miracle.
The Vols would go on to lose, 63-58, in arguably the worst loss of the year. They will travel to Starkville, Mississippi to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Tip off is set for Saturday, February 1 at 2PM EST.