For the first time this men’s basketball season, fans at Reed Arena were treated to the spectacle of fire-shooting pyrotechnics on the court as the Texas A&M starting lineup was introduced. Little did they know the performance would continue well after the players took the floor.
Thanks to a season-high 59.6% from the field, the Aggies downed Mississippi State 87-75 for their second quality victory of the week.
A&M entered Saturday’s contest ranked 342nd out of 350 NCAA Division I teams in field goal percentage at 39%. A&M’s hot streak was its best shooting performance since Nov. 21, 2017, when the Aggies hit 61% of their shots against Penn State.
“It’s kind of nice to see us finding our rhythm offensively in a year where we’ve kind of struggled to score and shoot the ball,” senior forward Josh Nebo said. “It’s nice to see all the guys find their shot and to see it go through the hoop again.”
Nebo led the offensive charge for the Aggies (14-12, 8-6) with a career-high 21 points. Wendell Mitchell added 20 points, and Savion Flagg had 15 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and eighth of his career.
Beyond A&M’s starters, who all played at least 30 minutes, only Andre Gordon netted any points off the bench with a 3-pointer midway through the second half. Head coach Buzz Williams said he stuck with the hot hands, which never completely went cold through the course of the game.
After a back-and-forth start to the first half, A&M gained some separation with a 14-8 run to close out the first half leading 36-30. The Bulldogs (17-10, 8-6) came within two early in the second half, but seven points from Nebo and a 3-pointer from Quenton Jackson created separation the Aggies wouldn’t relinquish.
Through the last 15 minutes of play, Mitchell scored 15 of his 20 points, including two 3-pointers. His second trey found the bottom of the net despite Mitchell getting fouled on the shot, and it turned into a crowd-raising, four-point play.
Mitchell fouled out of the Aggies 74-68 win over Alabama on Wednesday by bumping a 3-point shooter late in the game, to which he said he believed no foul was committed. Saturday, he felt some retribution.
“The ball don’t lie,” he said with a smile.
Along with the high mark for field goal percentage, A&M recorded season highs in points, field goals made (31), 3-point percentage (52.9%), free-throw percentage (88.9%) and assists (18).
While A&M’s top rebounders, Nebo and Emanuel Miller, combined for just four boards, Williams said Flagg was pivotal in helping control that part of the game.
“We need our bigs to prevent their bigs from getting it, and we need our other guys to rebound down and I thought [Flagg] was the difference,” Williams said.
A&M’s win might have served to pop the Bulldog’s NCAA tournament bubble, but it kept the Aggies in contention for good seeding in the Southeastern Conference tournament and possibilities for other postseason play. It was the Aggies’ second win over a team with a top 50 NET ranking this week.
“I’ve got great respect for Buzz and what a great job he does and how this team has developed here at Texas A&M from the beginning of the year to where they are right now,” Bulldog head coach Ben Howland said. “They’re a problem for everybody.”