Texas A&M is through to the NCAA tournament round of 32. The No. 7 Aggies beat No. 10 Providence in West Region play on Friday in Charlotte, 73-69. The game was a slugfest until the final few minutes, when A&M asserted itself as the better team on the floor. The four-point final margin makes the game look closer than it was; Providence trailed by 11 in the final two minutes and made things look more dignified with a few garbage-time points.
With just a shade more than eight minutes to play, the teams were tied at 50. That’s when Texas A&M made its move. The Aggies went on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes, and they had the game well in control by the final media timeout at the 4:12 remaining mark. They didn’t let up after that and eventually sealed the game at the foul line.
Four players reached double figures for Billy Kennedy’s team: Admon Gilder (18 points), TJ Starks (15), Tyler Davis (14), and Robert Williams (13). Davis and Williams combined for an incredible 29 rebounds and were 12-of-19 from the field altogether.
Texas A&M’s next opponent will be North Carolina, unless the second-seeded Tar Heels suffer a stunning upset at the hands of No. 15 Lipscomb Friday.
The Aggies have relied on their defense all year, and they did again.
The Aggies are one of the biggest teams in the country, with an average roster height of about 6’7. They use their length effectively, blocking tons of shots and generally defending the area around the basket better than almost anyone. A&M’s 15.3 percent block rate was 11th in the country this season, and its 45 percent shooting allowed inside the arc was 17th. Those numbers are both out of 351 Division I teams, and the SEC has some talented bigs.
The same roster composition that makes A&M’s defense good has been problematic on offense. The Aggies are a completely average shooting team, and well below average among teams to make the NCAA tournament. Shooting guard Gilder is pretty good at knocking down jumpers, but the rest of A&M’s guards are mediocre or worse from the floor. To score, the Aggies have to get the ball to some of their talented front-court players — Davis, Williams, and DJ Hogg in particular.
A&M’s offense wasn’t anything special against PC. The Aggies shot 50 percent from the field and scored a decent 1.06 points per possession. But they held the Friars to 44 percent and an even one point per trip, so A&M’s scoring shortcomings were no big deal. The Aggie defense was its usual, suffocating self, and that was enough.
A&M has one advantage in a likely North Carolina matchup.
The Heels’ best strength is their offensive rebounding, just as it was during a national championship run in 2017. But the Aggies will have a height edge on them, and if they can seal their defensive glass, they’ll have a chance to bust a lot of brackets.