Sidelines with John Clay

Texas A&M basketball hot again just as Kentucky comes to town

Texas A&M center Tyler Davis, center, and guard Admon Gilder celebrate after Davis scored against Auburn guard Malik Dunbar during the Aggies’ 81-80 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.
Texas A&M center Tyler Davis, center, and guard Admon Gilder celebrate after Davis scored against Auburn guard Malik Dunbar during the Aggies’ 81-80 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Auburn, Ala. Associated Press

At times this college basketball season, Kentucky had not enjoyed the best timing. Saturday’s trip to College Station to play Texas A&M could be one of those times.

The Aggies are suddenly hot again. After a terrific pre-conference season in which Billy Kennedy’s team roared to an 11-1 record and a No. 5 ranking in the AP Top 25, A&M stumbled to an 0-5 SEC start. Since then, however, the Aggies have won five of their last six league games, including three straight.

Wednesday night, they earned their second win over a Top 10 team this season, winning 81-80 at No. 8 Auburn. Guard TJ Starks scored 23 points and Duane Wilson made one of two free throws with four seconds left as A&M handed Bruce Pearl’s team just its third loss of the season.

So what has changed for the Aggies, who lost 74-73 to Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Jan. 9?

Actually, the turning point may have come in the second half of A&M’s 79-68 loss at Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 27. His roster in flux because of injuries and suspensions, Kennedy finally saw his team start to click again. Down 45-27 at the half, Texas A&M outscored the Jayhawks 41-34 over the final 20 minutes at Allen Fieldhouse.

That showing apparently sparked Texas A&M’s previously sputtering offense. The Aggies followed up with a convincing 80-66 win over visiting Arkansas in which A&M shot 47.5 percent, made 10 of 26 three-pointers and saw all five starters score in double figures.

Recently inserted into the starting lineup, Starks scored 16 points against the Razorbacks. Tyler Davis added 15 points and 13 rebounds as A&M improved to 3-6 in the conference.

It jumped to 4-6 with an 83-60 rout of visiting South Carolina. The Aggies shot 63 percent while holding the Gamecocks to 21.1 percent on the way to a 49-27 halftime lead. A&M ended up shooting 52.7 percent as Admon Gilder led the way with 15 points. Robert Williams scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked a season-high five shots.

“They’ve got the team back together,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “There’s a reason they were top five in the country.”

Wednesday night, Kennedy’s team was forced to hold on after squandering a 17-point lead. In a hostile environment, against a Top 10 team, the Aggies did enough at the end to get the victory.

Starks led the way with 23 points. Williams scored 16, Davis 15. Texas A&M shot 54.1 percent for the game, made nine of 18 three-point shots and won the boards 33-22.

Despite the recent offensive uptick, defense is still the Aggies’ strength. Kenpom numbers have A&M sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Aggies are 81st in offensive adjusted efficiency. they are No. 23 overall. Kentucky is 28th. Pomeroy gives UK a 35 percent chance of winning Saturday night.

The RPI currently has Kentucky at No. 16 and Texas A&M at No. 18. It judges Texas A&M as the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule with UK’s strength of schedule at No. 8.

Jeff Sagarin has Kentucky at No. 20 and Texas A&M at No. 27. UK is 1-3 against Sagarin’s Top 25. Texas A&M is 1-4.

Kentucky at Texas A&M

When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

Where: Reed Arena in College Station, TX

TV: ESPN

Radio: UK Network

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

SEC

Overall

Auburn

9-2

21-3

Tennessee

8-3

18-5

Florida

7-4

16-8

Miss State

6-5

18-6

Kentucky

6-5

17-7

Missouri

6-5

16-8

Alabama

6-5

15-9

Arkansas

5-6

16-8

Texas A&M

5-6

16-8

Georgia

4-7

13-10

LSU

4-7

13-10

South Carolina

4-7

13-11

Ole Miss

4-7

11-13

Vanderbilt

3-8

9-15

Texas A&M basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

A&M

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10

vsWest Virginia

88

65

W

1-0

11/17

UC Santa Barbara

84

65

W

2-0

11/20

vsOklahoma St

72

55

W

3-0

11/21

vsPenn State

98

87

W

4-0

11/24

Pepperdine

81

65

W

5-0

11/26

USC

75

59

W

6-0

11/30

UT Rio Grande Valley

78

60

W

7-0

12/5

vsArizona

64

67

L

7-1

12/9

vsPrairie View A&M

73

53

W

8-1

12/13

Savannah State

113

66

W

9-1

12/19

Northern Kentucky

64

58

W

10-1

12/21

Buffalo

89

73

W

11-1

12/30

@Alabama

57

79

L

11-2

0-1

1/2

Florida

66

83

L

11-3

0-2

1/6

LSU

68

69

L

11-4

0-3

1/9

@Kentucky

73

74

L

11-5

0-4

1/13

@Tennessee

62

75

L

11-6

0-5

1/16

Ole Miss

71

69

W

12-6

1-5

1/20

Missouri

60

49

W

13-6

2-5

1/23

@LSU

65

77

L

13-7

2-6

1/27

@Kansas

68

79

L

13-8

1/30

Arkansas

80

66

W

14-8

3-6

2/3

South Carolina

83

60

W

15-8

4-6

2/7

@Auburn

81

80

W

6-8

5-6

2/10

Kentucky

2/13

@Missouri

2/17

@Arkansas

2/20

Miss State

2/24

@Vanderbilt

2/28

@Georgia

3/3

Alabama

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