GAME NOTES: The SEC Tournament continues on to the second round at the Georgia Dome on Thursday afternoon when the ninth-seeded Texas A&M Aggies and the eighth-seeded Missouri Tigers square off with the right to play No. 1 seed Florida in the quarterfinals at stake.
The Aggies ended the regular season on a down note with losses in two straight and three of four, including a 69-64 setback to Auburn in the finale, to end up 8-10 in the league. They have an impressive overall record (17-14), but nearly all that success came on their home floor (16-3).
Missouri (21-10, 9-9) was once among the likes of the nationally ranked but has gone just 5-6 since Feb. 1 and are now on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration, most likely needing a strong run in this event to crack into the field. The Tigers lost a crucial matchup with Tennessee on Saturday, falling on the wrong end of a 75-45 blowout.
The Aggies and the Tigers met on March 5 in Columbia, with Missouri coming away with a 57-56 win. The former Big 12 rivals have met 25 times before, with Missouri leading the all-time series, 14-11.
Texas A&M held a lead as large as seven midway through the second half in its regular-season finale but could not hold off Auburn down the stretch as it suffered the five-point setback. The squad made good on 44 percent of its field goal tries but lost possessions by getting outrebounded, 35-25. Jamal Jones provided most of the damage with 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc, while Alex Caruso came off the bench to tally 11 points and four assists.
The Aggies' success this season has been largely attributed an outstanding defense, which yields a mere 62.5 ppg on 40.1 percent shooting, although their offensive attack is one of the league's worst, ranking 12th in field-goal percentage (.429), last in free-throw percentage (.640) and 12th in scoring (64.6 ppg). Jones shoots just 37.4 percent from the floor but generates enough volume to lead the team with 13.4 ppg, while Kourtney Roberson (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Caruso (8.6 ppg, 4.7 apg) have also been integral pieces.
To say that Missouri fell flat in Knoxville last weekend would be an understatement, as it shot a miserable 31.9 percent from the field (including 2-of-17 from 3-point range), got outrebounded by a commanding 45-28 margin and committed a game-high 11 turnovers in the 27-point loss. Jordan Clarkson was the only player to register in double figures with 13 points, although he did so on just 4-of-12 from the floor.
Despite their underwhelming play of late, the Tigers still score more points per game (73.1 ppg) than they allow (69.0 ppg) this season, boasting impressive percentages from the field (.458) and the free-throw line (.739) while owning a strong +5.1 rebounding margin. Jabari Brown is the SEC's top scorer with 19.7 ppg and has knocked down 75-of-180 from beyond the arc (.417). Jordan Clarkson adds 18.1 ppg and 3.5 apg to the backcourt, while Earnest Ross (13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) rounds out an strong scoring trio. Johnathan Williams doesn't get many opportunities to put points on the board (5.8 ppg), but he's a mainstay in the frontcourt with team highs in rebounds (6.4 rpg) and blocks (1.6 bpg).
Missouri has not lived up to its potential this season, but it certainly has the talent to piece together a surprising run in the tournament if it can get hot. The Aggies' stout defense will keep them in it, but expect the Tigers' elite scorers to step up down the stretch.
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