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Sports >  WSU basketball

‘They didn’t miss’: Texas A&M rolls past Washington State and into NIT final

March 29, 2022 Updated Wed., March 30, 2022 at 10:27 a.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

NEW YORK – The Texas A&M Aggies didn’t shy from expressing their displeasure with the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which snubbed the surging team when it revealed its 68-team March Madness field about two weeks ago.

So the Aggies have been taking their frustrations out on everybody at the NIT.

They prevailed by blowout for the fourth time in as many games at the second-most prominent college hoops tournament, stomping Washington State 72-56 on Tuesday night in the semifinal round at Madison Square Garden.

“They didn’t make the tournament, and that’s really shocking,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done (this season), but we’ve got a lot more work to do. … We ran into a better team tonight. We haven’t really played anyone like them this year, but that should be good for us moving forward.

“They didn’t let up the gas. They stepped on our necks and went for it. It was a good lesson for us.”

The Aggies (27-12) have won 11 of their past 12 games, the lone loss in that stretch coming to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament championship game. After their first-round NIT win, third-year coach Buzz Williams slammed the NCAA Tournament committee for excluding them.

Under the bright lights of the Big Apple, they wouldn’t be denied. A&M looked the part of Big Dance qualifier, turning a six-point halftime lead into a 15-point buffer after 4 minutes of the second half when Hassan Diarra completed a game-changing, four-point play.

The advantage had grown to 27 at the 9:30 mark as the Aggies flowed downcourt and distributed the ball cleanly to pile up highlights at the basket and befuddle the Cougars’ zone defense. A&M was shooting 80% from the field at the midway point of the second half.

“They didn’t miss,” Cougars guard Tyrell Roberts said. “They were getting to the rack, which is what they do. They were making contested and-1s, tough 2s. … They just went on a run and we weren’t taking care of the ball.”

Top-seeded A&M totaled 58 points in the paint against just 16 for the Cougars (22-15). The undersized Aggies slashed to the basket with efficiency, fueling their offense with firm perimeter defense.

“We were able to run a bit in transition,” Aggies guard Quenton Jackson said. “We played with energy and the shots happened to fall. Throughout the game, we tried to stay aggressive (against) their zone and wanted to attack while they were flat-footed.”

The Cougars could never get settled and generate any kind of momentum necessary to keep up with A&M and extend their best season in a decade.

WSU put one player in double figures in Roberts, who totaled 14 points. Post Efe Abogidi added nine points and 10 rebounds.

WSU shot 34.5% from the floor and 7 of 29 on 3-pointers – 3 of 17 after halftime. The Cougars’ leading scorer on the season, program-lifting senior point guard Michael Flowers – coming off a 27-point onslaught versus BYU in the quarterfinals and a 22-point outburst against SMU in the round prior – was held to five points on 2-of-12 shooting from the floor (0 of 5 from 3).

“He had a big hand in us having this great run in the postseason,” Smith said of Flowers, a first-year Cougar who broke Klay Thompson’s program record for single-season 3-pointers in the BYU game. “Really special person who will do really good things in life.”

Jackson (18 points), Henry Coleman III (16) and Manny Obaseki (14) all shot 50% or better for the Aggies, who doled out 15 assists on 32 field goals.

Based on the first-half statistics, one may have assumed the game was an early runaway in favor of A&M.

The Aggies torched WSU on dribble-drives, blowing past the Cougars’ perimeter defenders for a dozen layups in a choppy opening half. They outscored WSU 26-4 in the paint before halftime, opening an 11-point lead with 2 minutes left in the half with seven straight makes on penetration plays.

The Cougars appeared uneasy on offense for extended stretches in the first half and committed 10 of their 17 turnovers. They had coughed up the ball a total of six, nine and eight times in their past three games, but the Cougars seemed out of sorts against a nationally notable Aggies defense that prides itself on pressure.

Despite a considerable advantage in length, WSU couldn’t establish an edge in the frontcourt and relied on 3-pointers to keep the deficit manageable. The Cougars were choppy at best on offense but pesky on defense, enough to close within six points at halftime.

“We’re not good at keeping people in front, but we have pretty good rim protection,” Smith said. “They were just able to live (inside) and against our zone, too. We were kind of fortunate to be down six. They were probably mad at themselves for not being up 20.”

Smith reflected on the Cougs’ breakthrough campaign, easily the program’s most successful since Klay Thompson led WSU to the MSG semis back 11 years ago. The Cougars logged their highest win total in Pac-12 play in 14 years, qualified for a national postseason for the first time in a decade and routed three NIT opponents.

“You gotta dream it. You gotta have a vision,” the third-year coach said. “Just knowing we need to get to the postseason and win, knowing we’ll have some expectations next year and managing those, and working hard in the offseason. They exposed us a little bit. … The foundation is there. I think our program finally matured.”

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