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Texas A&M fights past Ole Miss for 14th SEC win

 Charles Vaughan   in Basketball

Despite shooting just 22.7% from three, the 24th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (22-8, 14-3 SEC) scraped past the Ole Miss Rebels (11-19, 3-14) by a score of 69-61 Tuesday night in Oxford.

A&M fell into a hole early, was outrebounded 41-40, and struggled to shoot the whole night. However, the Aggies turned the ball over just five times to Ole Miss’s 18 and held the Rebels off down the stretch, securing A&M’s 14th conference win. Leading scorer Tyrece Radford struggled mightily from the field, making just five out of 20 shots, but ended up finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Guard Wade Taylor also had a rough shooting night but was able to rack up 12 points and seven assists, while forward Julius Marble scored 10 on 5-8 shooting.

Ole Miss, playing in their second game after the firing of former head coach Kermit Davis, struggled to find offense from anyone other than junior guard Matthew Murrell. Murrell was scorching hot from beyond the arc, taking 11 three-pointers and making eight of them. He finished with 26 points, three rebounds, and an assist to boot; however, five of the Rebels’ giveaways were credited to Murrell. He was also the only Rebel to score in double digits. Usual sparkplug Jaemyn Brakefield scored just five points in 31 minutes while racking up four turnovers, and sixth man James White put up nine on 4-14 shooting.

The Rebels were dominant in the opening minutes and put forth the most inspired offense they’d exhibited in weeks. After forward Robert Allen scored five early points, Murrell hit two threes to extend Ole Miss’s lead to 11-4 before A&M knew what had hit them. Although the Aggies tried to respond, Murrell’s pinpoint shooting and strong defense from Ole Miss gave the Rebels a 20-8 advantage seven minutes into the game.

It was then that Ole Miss’s patented offensive woes decided to rear their ugly heads. The Rebs scored 20 points in the game’s first seven minutes - they would score eight in the next thirteen. Murrell suddenly wasn’t getting looks, and they had no other weapons to turn to. In an instant, Texas A&M had taken the lead on a Solomon Washington layup. Ole Miss would briefly regain the advantage before halftime, but their short-lived scoring prowess had been a mirage. The Aggies went into the break on top 34-28.

The second half was reminiscent of a Sisyphean struggle - heroic Murrell threes sometimes interspersed with layups from his teammates would bring Ole Miss’s rock right to the top of the hill, but Texas A&M would cruelly push it back down right as it seemed the Rebels had made it. Despite Ole Miss briefly making it a two-point game, the Aggies didn’t relinquish their lead in the second half.

The Ride Doesn’t Stop

After a slight bump in the road last weekend in Starkville, Texas A&M’s joyride through the SEC continues. 

Buzz Williams seems to have put this program in a groove at last - since February 15, 2022, A&M is 34-11, good for a 75% win percentage. Although they didn’t do it in style, the Aggies just tied a school record by winning their 14th conference game; only Shelby Metcalf’s 1975 and 1979 teams have accomplished that feat in program history. 

They’ve essentially secured an NCAA bid and have locked down excellent seeding for the SEC tournament - A&M’s last remaining roadblock awaits them Saturday in College Station. If the Aggies want to break their program mark for conference wins and prove to the world they’re more than just a scrappy newcomer, they’ll have to upset Brandon Miller and No. 2 Alabama. 

Saturday’s game could also decide the SEC regular season champion. If Alabama wins their home game against Auburn on Wednesday night, the Tide will clinch their second regular season title in three years. However, if Auburn beats Alabama, the winner of Saturday’s Aggies-Tide head-to-head will be awarded the crown.

The fact that Texas A&M is in this position at all is a testament to how spectacular their season has been. The Aggies were picked seventh in the conference by the preseason media poll and KenPom alike - Vegas gave them +2900 odds to finish first. 

But here we are: Buzz Williams has his team standing on the precipice of just their second SEC title ever.

Looking Ahead

Ole Miss officially waved the white flag on their campaign last Friday, firing fifth-year head coach Kermit Davis only a week before the postseason. Davis recorded winning seasons in 2019 and 2021 but was unable to keep up that pace, with both of his final two Rebel squads winning less than five conference games. Longtime Davis assistant Win Case stepped in to lead the team for the remainder of the season.

From an Ole Miss perspective, it’s hard to take away anything meaningful from today’s loss. Case is almost certainly a placeholder - there are rumors that the Ole Miss administration is swinging for Will Wade, Chris Beard, or even Rick Pitino - and he will likely coach his last game on the Rebel sideline in the upcoming weeks. 

Murrell had an excellent day, but he was brought to Oxford by Davis and it’s hard to say whether or not he’ll be in an Ole Miss uniform next year. Players with his skillset are in high demand, and enticing NIL deals are sure to flood into Murrell’s mailbox this summer.

The Rebel program is in such flux right now that predicting their future based on the results of their remaining games is impossible. Ole Miss will play out the rest of this season’s schedule, but the Rebels are really just waiting to see what the offseason holds.

What’s Next

As was previously mentioned, Texas A&M concludes its season with a Saturday morning home game against national #2 Alabama in a game potentially rife with SEC title implications.

Ole Miss wraps up its season with a Saturday away game at Missouri. The Rebels, guaranteed a bottom-four position in the SEC, have nothing to play for outside of spoiling Mizzou’s conference tournament seeding.