Do we own this state, or what?
I can't really say a whole lot about yesterday's game that wasn't summed up by a text message I received from Panjandrum just seconds after the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"Big win. BIG win."
Getting that game yesterday in College Station proved several things about this team. It showed they can sustain the momentum of this winning streak. It showed they can win when the game isn't a run-and-gun shootout. It showed they can win playing an opponent's style. It showed they can win when they don't knock down more than half their three-point attempts.
More importantly, it showed this team belongs in the discussion of teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament. Now don't get me wrong, we still have quite a bit of work to do thanks to the total lack of quality non-conference wins and the 0-4 start to conference play. But the national media is starting to take notice. This morning on SportsCenter - yes, in a moment of weakness I sat and watched SportsCenter - Joe Lunardi picked us as one of the last four teams in the field. I consider that entirely premature, but it's important that we be in the discussion.
What I liked...
...Darren Kent. We've all been hard on DK here, but it's time we start giving him some respect for his performances the last few games. He was tough early against Iowa State when the team needed a lift, and he played a solid if unspectacular game against Texas last week. Yesterday, he did a wonderful job of fighting in the post with A&M's bruisers, scoring tough points and rebounding like a madman. He just missed a double-double.
...Jake Pullen. Good Jake showed up again in College Station, especially in the first half when we needed him. For the most part, he took good shots and did a good job of staying within the offense. Could use a little better assist-to-turnover ratio, but that's me being picky.
...the defensive effort on Josh Carter. More than anybody else, I was worried about Carter going off, but Dominique Sutton and the rest of the Cats hounded him into a 2-9 outing from three-point range.
...the second-half effort from Denis Clemente. After an 0-fer effort in the first half, it would have been easy for Clemente to hang his head and hope someone else could pick up the slack. But he didn't, and scored 14 huge points in the second half.
...much better free-throw shooting. I'll take 80 percent any day. But I'd like to have more than 10 attempts. Some of that was the officials, some of it was our occasional contentedness with launching shots from deep.
...absolutely nails shots by Jake Pullen and Fred Brown late in the game. Texas A&M showed a lot of guts by cutting the lead to one, but Pullen and Brown delivered the left-right knockout combo. You could see it in Reed Arena when those shots went down. The sweet sound of a road crowd going quiet.
What I didn't like...
...games officiated by John Higgins. Jesus. Early in the game, the officials called a very ticky-tack foul, and because of that painted themselves into a corner. To their credit, they were relatively consistent in calling things tight after that, but you have to give the players more room to play. I must say, though, it was funny to see Mark Turgeon back down after Higgins put his whistle in his mouth, indicating he was one word from a technical foul.
...the first-half effort from Denis Clemente. By ‘effort' I don't mean that he wasn't trying, but he was taking bad shots and wasn't working within the offense.
What it means and where we're going...
As mentioned above, it means we're now firmly in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament, even if we still have a lot of work to do. In the immediate future, we're returning to Bramlage Coliseum this week and need to do to Texas Tech on Wednesday what we did to Iowa State last Tuesday. Namely, bounce back from a hard-fought, emotional win on Saturday with a win over an overmatched opponent midweek.
And of course, we all know what's going down next Saturday. But Wednesday comes first.