COLLEGE STATION--Led by another rousing 20-plus point effort by Jamal Jones, the Texas A&M basketball team improved to an immaculate 3-0 record in SEC play after edging out the South Carolina Gamecocks in a 75-67 victory Wednesday at Reed Arena.
The Aggies would rally to overcome a lackluster start after trailing 14-3 following the first six minutes of regulation. A mid-half surge would even out the game’s momentum as the Aggies whittled the Gamecocks’ lead to one point by the half.
Despite being outrebounded 33-25, Texas A&M found its spark – scoring field goals at a 62.5 percent clip in the second half – to overcome an inexperienced South Carolina team down the stretch. Balanced scoring, including double-digit point tallies by Shawn Smith (14) and Antwan Space (13) in addition to Jones’ 22, would allow head coach Billy Kennedy’s squad to persevere.
Kennedy noted the improved play from his bench, a change created through a shift in its collective mindset.
“Our bench was really good for us tonight,” Kennedy said. “Davonte Fitzgerald and Shawn Smith had some great minutes, as did Antwan Space. All three of those guys gave us quality minutes. They’re growing up, they’re getting comfortable and their attitude is better. That’s why they’re playing better.”
This is the second straight game in which the Aggies would pull through to win in a close contest. Though the match wouldn’t end similarly to the buzzer-beating thriller Saturday in Knoxville, clutch plays were needed to remain unscathed in conference play.
Jones, who notched his second consecutive game scoring more than 20 points, said the emotional win at Tennessee spurred on the team’s rising momentum.
“After that Tennessee win, that’s when we started coming along and started getting our confidence back,” Jones said. “A couple days ago we felt like we could beat anybody. If everybody shows up on a night like this, it’s pretty special.”
Texas A&M trailed for 13 minutes in the second half, but two free throws and a Space three-pointer lifted the Aggies to a lead that took the wind from the Gamecocks’ sails. The significant three-point shot would add to a prolific night beyond the arc with the Aggies connecting at a 43.8 percent rate from the perimeter.
Space, who hit the winning shot against Tennessee after trailing the entirety of the second half, said the team’s closeness allowed them to overcome the game’s adversity.
“We’re a pretty close group. When we went in the locker room, everybody could say anything to anybody,” Space said. “We told each other what we need to do, what we need to fix about it and change it. It worked.”
TEAM RECORDS & SERIES NOTES
● Texas A&M improved to 12-4 and remained perfect in SEC play (3-0) with the 75-67 win over South Carolina at Reed Arena on Wednesday evening … The Aggies are 11-1 on their home court this season.
● The all-time series between the two schools now stands at 2-0 in favor of Texas A&M … The two teams will face off again on Jan. 29 when the Aggies travel to Columbia, S.C.
● A season-high crowd of 9,257 fans took in the action at Reed Arena, including 4,683 Texas A&M students.
● South Carolina jumped out to an early 14-3 lead as the Aggies misfired on five of their first six shots from the floor and were guilty of three early turnovers … The 11-point margin which came at the 14:39 mark of the first half was the biggest of the game for USC.
● Texas A&M came on strong down the stretch by outscoring the Gamecocks 24-12 during the game’s final 9:08 to secure the victory.
● On the night, Texas A&M shot 55 percent from the floor (22-of-40) including a 10-of-16 mark during the second half (62.5%).
● South Carolina, meanwhile, made 23-of-49 shot attempts in the contest (46.9%).
● The Maroon & White used the starting line-up combination of Alex Caruso, Jordan Green, Fabyon Harris, Jamal Jones and Kourtney Roberson for the third straight contest and third overall time this season.
● The Aggies trailed 39-38 at halftime … A&M is 2-2 when trailing at the intermission this season, including a 2-0 mark in SEC games.
● Junior Jamal Jones continued his strong play on the offensive end, contributing 22 points in the victory … The Wynne, Ark., native enjoyed much of his success from the free throw line where he was 9-for-12 … Jones is averaging 19.7 points per game during SEC play.
● Freshman Davonte Fitzgerald also produced offensively for the Aggies, chipping in 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field.
● RS freshman Shawn Smith came off the Aggie bench to contributed 14 points.
● Sophomore Alex Caruso added seven assists to increase his SEC-leading total to 84 this season.
● A&M head coach Billy Kennedy is now 44-37 in his third season at Texas A&M and 255-216 in 16 years as a head coach.
● The Aggies travel to Starkville, Miss., to battle Mississippi State on Saturday in a 12:30 p.m. contest inside Humphrey Coliseum ... The game is slated to be televised on SEC TV.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH BILLY KENNEDY
“It was a great team win. I want to thank the General Ramirez and the Corps for being here tonight. I thought our fans and our students were a big reason we were able to win. We had a great home-court advantage.”
On team depth…
“Our bench was really good for us tonight. Davonte Fitzgerald, Shawn Smith and Antwan Space gave us some great minutes off the bench. They are growing up and getting comfortable. Their attitudes have gotten better and that’s why they are playing better.”
On being 3-0 in SEC play…
“It’s a great feeling. I was concerned during the first five to seven minutes of the game. I thought we showed our immaturity, starting with Alex and just going down the line. We got frustrated a little bit but fortunately, we came back. The resiliency and leadership of Jordan Green was tremendous.”
On Shawn Smith…
“His maturity and his attitude have been so much better the last few days and last week. That has helped him and our guys have done a tremendous job of helping him. I have to give him all the credit. He is doing a much better job handling criticism and handling coaching.”
On Shawn Smith’s second-half 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock…
“That was huge that we showed the discipline to run the clock down and make the extra pass. Smith hit a big shot. He is capable of making big shots and is a good player. The whole possession epitomized the game for us. We had to grind that whole possession out and we had a guy that had not shot that well from the 3-point line hit a big one.”
On team contribution towards win…
“We talked about how this was a great team win. With guys thinking like that, it gives us a chance to win. We are not deep enough or experienced enough to not have everybody locked in and involved. It was good to see that we matured. We have at least 16 games left. There’s a lot of the season left. We can’t relax. We have to continue to grind and get better.”
TEXAS A&M RS FRESHMAN SHAWN SMITH
On his game tonight…
"I've been going through some ups and downs, but tonight my number was called. I just wanted to go out and play hard to help my teammates as much as possible."
On his buzzer-beating three as the shot clock ran out…
"Coach drew up a play at the last minute. Alex Caruso came off a pick and made a great play for me as he found me wide open in the corner where I knocked it down."
On the trouble getting rebounds…
"We have to start boxing out more, and I bet that's something Coach Kennedy is going to help us with in practice the next few days."
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR JAMAL JONES
On the team's play tonight…
"Everybody showed up tonight, everybody brought something to the game. We needed for that to happen because South Carolina is a very physical. Everybody did something tonight and we were able to pull out a win."
On confidence of the team building after wins at Tennessee and tonight against USC…
"We're very confident. After the win at Tennessee we started coming along and getting our confidence back. We feel like we can beat anybody, and if everybody shows up like we did tonight, we're a tough team to beat."
SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH FRANK MARTIN
“We actually played well for a while there, but then the game got hard. We got rattled and we backed up. We got ‘out-toughed’ at the rim and were embarrassingly bad on defense. It is what it is, but give them credit. Coach Kennedy is doing a great job. He's a friend and I can't tell you how happy I am for how well his team is playing right now."