No. 11 Texas A&M men's basketball team loses second straight to open SEC

Texas A&M's J.J. Caldwell, center front, reaches for the ball along with Florida's Chris Chiozza, right, on Tuesday night at Reed Arena.

Two weeks ago Texas A&M was the talk off the Southeastern Conference men's basketball world, earning national respect with a No. 5 ranking and being considered an equal contender for the SEC title alongside perennial winner Kentucky.

Two games later and the No. 11 Aggies are still wondering where their first win in the SEC will come from.

Florida used a bunch of 3-pointers to help build a big early lead and maintain it for most of 26 minutes in an 83-66 victory over A&M on Tuesday at Reed Arena.

The Gators (10-4, 2-0) made 17 of 28 from 3-point range and led by at least 10 points from the 3:44 mark of the first half against the Aggies, who played without three starters.

"It's a factor, no question," A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "You can't have your best foot forward in the SEC and give yourself a chance to win night in and night out. The injuries you can't control, and obviously losing Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson hurts us against a team that is so good on the perimeter. But all those things add up, and you have to put your best foot forward, and we didn't have our best group today."

A&M (11-3, 0-2) got within 55-45 in the second half after 3-pointers by Tonny Trocha-Morelos and Chris Collins, but after Florida took a timeout, the Gators got two straight 3-pointers and a jumper from Egor Koulechov to push their lead back 18. They stretched it to 20 after a Koulechov steal that led to a Chris Chiozza layup.

Chiozza did most of the feeding Tuesday with nine assists. He also had 12 points, four rebounds and four steals with just two turnovers in 33 minutes.

"He was fantastic," Florida coach Stan White said. "Wow, he just ran the show, played like a really good college senior point guard. Great decisions. He was an A."

The good news for the Aggies is they will have leading scorer and 3-point specialist D.J. Hogg back when LSU visits on Saturday. Hogg served the final of a three-game suspension Tuesday, a stretch that coincides closely with A&M's sudden trouble shooting 3-pointers. The Aggies, who also have been without injured shooting guard Admon Gilder, hit just 7 of 51 treys over their previous three games entering Tuesday's matchup.

The shooting improved against Florida. A&M made 8 of 19 from long range with freshman Jay Jay Chandler leading the way at 3 for 4 with a career-high 18 points.

"We packed it in more so than we normally do with the lack of proven shooters," White said. "They made us pay for the game plan a few times, and [A&M's freshmen] will get better, but it didn't change the game plan. We knew the emphasis was to pack it inside."

Florida held Tyler Davis and Robert Williams to 12 points each on a combined 10-of-23 shooting.

The Aggies also played without starting point guard Duane Wilson, who injured his knee in the 77-59 loss at Alabama to open SEC play Saturday. JJ Caldwell started in his place and had nine points and seven assists in 36 minutes.

Scoring wasn't the main problem for the Aggies against the Gators. A&M had trouble defending the 3, often leaving 3-point shooters open while switching when playing man-to-man defense or when trying to keep up with the Gators when they passed it around A&M's zone.

Koulechov, who transferred from Rice, had 19 points and sophomore Keith Stone set a career high with 18 points. The Gators' leading score coming in, Jalen Hudson, had 11 points.

The Gators hardly couldn't miss in the first half, shooting 56 percent from the field and 62 percent (10 of 16) from behind the 3-point line. Stone led the way with 13 points in the opening 20 minutes, seven above his average per game and only one point below his high for the season, which came in the second game against North Florida.

A&M jumped to a 7-3 lead, but by the time Florida had made 7 of 10 3s, it led 33-19. Koulechov added 11 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting. He made all three of his 3s.

"I haven't seen that confidence level offensively in a while," White said. "It's nice to see our guys eyes as shots went in."

Chandler kept the Aggies within shouting range, posting his career high by the half with 12. Three came on a long 3 when the Aggies had to throw the ball in with 1 second remaining on the shot clock. He also had four points on fastbreaks and at one point scored 10 points in a row for the Aggies.

Chandler was 5 for 6 overall and 2 of 2 on 3-pointers in the first half. His previous high for a game was 10 at home against Pepperdine.

NOTES -- Kennedy said he hoped to have Gilder and Wilson back for the LSU game. He said they had improved every day and the Aggies have four more days for the two starters to rehab. … Freshman TJ Starks did not play in the second half and when asked about Chris Collins getting more minutes than Starks, Kennedy said attitude and character. … A&M lost its SEC home opener last season to Tennessee.

(1) comment

Peter Witt

Without three starters, this is a lazy, disorganized, poor shooting, and bad defensive team. But the more fundamental issue probably has something to do with team culture. At least four different players have received suspensions at some point during the season, several multiple times. What does this say about team unity, players caring more about team than themselves as individuals, leadership, and coaching. The men's team is full of potential, but will probably be one of the greatest flops in A&M history. Robert Williams does not play with heart and commitment...at least one of the freshman guards seems very lazy and into himself more than his team...Morales seems to be lost...and several of the other freshman are, well freshman. We would expect leadership from Hogg and Gilder...don't see that on the court, and both have faced at least one suspension. All together a mess and a missed opportunity. Injuries don't help, but they aren't the fundamental problem with this team...not a lot of fun to watch...weren't that much fun even when they were winning.

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