Well, we started out hot for the umpteenth time this year, jumping out to an early 8-0 lead. We've proven time-and-time again we're good at that part. The part we aren't so hot at is keeping that lead. At least, we weren't so good at it until Monday night.
It all began the same. Following our 8-0 start, Texas A&M came back on two consecutive possessions and knocked down buckets. Bam! Lead cut in half, and we're heading down the same road. But then, something changed. We missed a shot, but then Brady Morningstar hustled his ass of and got an offensive board, tipping the ball in while he was fouled. 11-4. A missed shot by the Ags, and Marcus Morris gets fouled and makes one of two free throws. Another missed shot by aTm, a Cole Aldrich jumper. 14-4. Then, a jumper and a layup from Sherron. Boom. 18-4. Game over.
That's all it takes, sometimes. Just ten quick points, nothing special, and the game takes a complete turn. Instead of allowing the opponent to come back in, we simply extended the lead, went up 14, and essentially ended the game right there.
So, yeah, that was nice. However, before we get into the player-by-players, I want to go back to the three keys I brought up in my KenPom preview of the Aggies:
1) Match Their Intensity -- This is the major key, and one we'll talk about more once we get to the Open Game Thread. The Aggies, simply put, are more desperate today, and they should come out with more fire, more intensity. With the backing of Allen Field House, I don't think we should have too much trouble getting up for the game, but you never know with a young team. If they are the team that visibly cares more, we could be in for a rather disappointing night. If not, we should be in OK shape.
Check, check, check. I'd say, without question, that we were clearly the team that wanted it more. You don't need any more evidence than Brady's tip-in. aTm had two bigs right there at the rim, and Brady's guy was somewhere in the vicinity, but Brady just outhustled all of them and soared to the rim. And, the trend continued throughout the night. We obviously had the benefit of being at home, but we did a fabulous job of being equally intense.
2) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers -- As we talked about, A&M never turns the ball over. Ever. But, they also don't force all that many turnovers. So, if either of those things changes, that would be a gigantic momentum shift. If we turn the ball over a bunch, that is a big advantage the ampersands are given they aren't accustomed to. If, though, on the other hand, we can force A&M into some turnovers, they are a little behind the eight-ball. So, yeah, this is something that'll likely simply stay the same. However, if it tilts heavily either way, it'll change the game significantly.
I told you, this would be the key. Coming in, aTm just never turned the ball over. Like, ever. Against Baylor, less than a week prior to the game in Allen Field House, they turned the ball over on 9% of their possessions. Nine. Against us, well, it was different. 29% of their possessions, this time. That is going from six turnovers to twenty. 20. That, right there, was the difference. Especially in the early-going, they couldn't get any semblance of offense going, because they couldn't string more than three possessions together without finding some way to turn the ball over. Usually, it was traveling, but they found plenty of other ways to lose the ball. This was the key.
OK, now that we got those two huge keys out of the way, let's move on to the player-by-players:
Mario. Frickin'. Little. Oh. My. Goodness. OK, now that we got six sentences out of the way, let's use sentences that actually involve substances. This, right here, is the kid who we brought in as the offensive machine. This was why he was voted Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, why everyone couldn't wait for him to get healthy. This is why he shouldn't have redshirted; we need this right now. As awesome as Sherron Collins is, and as dominating as Cole Aldrich is, we still need at least one more really awesome scorer. And while Tyshawn Taylor is playing awesome recently, and while the Morris twins could always break out, they aren't in the same league, currently, as Mario Little. He's got the sweetest stroke on the team; Brandon Rush-status, even. He can hit it from anywhere, and can create his own shot. Plus, he is playing fine as a 4, matching up with bigger forwards and still holding his own. He isn't going to be a great rebounder from the 4, but as long as the rest of the team can pick up the slack (i.e. Brady Morningstar the past two games), we're fine. And, he is too good offensively to leave off the floor. Our absolute best team, right now, is with him at the 4. Eventually, maybe he can move to the 3, but I want him to stick at the 4 right now.
- After Mario, the second place vote in the MVP balloting goes to Brady Morningstar. No, seriously. Despite him scoring only three points (on the aforementioned tip-in-and-one early on in the game), he did everything else just about perfectly. He's one of the best off-ball defenders, fundamentally, you'll ever see in college basketball. Period. And he pretty much shut down Josh Carter, holding him to only seven points. Of those seven, one was on a three with a hand in his face, where Brady couldn't have done anything else. Another two were on free throws. So, just tack on another name to the shut-down list from Brady. Sooner or later, he should get that list out that Chad Johnson had a couple of years ago of the corners he burnt. Only, Brady really shuts his down (ba-dun-dun-chhh). Oh, and that isn't even bringing up his six rebounds; good enough for second on the team. As weird as it is to say, Brady is one of the best all-around players on this team. Not the most talented. But one of the best basketball players. Wow. Who saw this coming in October?
- Another pair of ho-hum near-double-doubles from Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Seriously. How could two superstars be so low-key in how they score their points, how they pick up their assists and rebounds, respectively? 16 points, 7 assists, 3 steals for Sherron; 16 points, 8 rebounds and a pair of blocks for the big guy. Pretty much, we need performances like that nearly every time out. They are the foundation rocks that we can build any future success on. Any statements about winning the Big 12, or even winning a game anywhere, must start with assuming solid performances from Sherron and Cole. That doesn't happen, a win ain't happenin'. But, if they can just play solid, like they did Monday night, the rest of the team can step up, most of the time, and we can win. And win big.
- It was a tale of two stories, or twins, for the Morris Twins. Marcus, on one hand, looked fabulous at times, namely when he knocked down two straight threes from an identical spot on the floor. If he can consistently hit that shot, oh boy. Big 12 Title, here we come. No, seriously. Our offense starts to approach general ridiculousness, potential wise, if he can consistently hit that shot. Plus, he hit another shot, nailed some free throws (although, he was only 2-5; that needs to improve) and didn't get in too much foul trouble. He is still too much of a non-factor on the boards, but I like to think he's getting better at it. Plus, Markieff is more of the rebounder, anyways. And Kieff did pick up more rebounds (3 to his brother's 1), but couldn't do much of anything offensively. His perimeter shot just isn't pretty; his offensive skillset is pretty limited. Dude is a better rebounder than his brother, but Marcus is better at everything else, IMO.
- Another fabulous performance from Tyshawn Taylor, too. This kid is reverting back to the freshman who showed up way back when in late November, and that is almost as important as the emergence of Mario Little. He only missed one shot for the second straight game, which tells us two things. One, he is getting quite efficient, and is making more shots. And two, more importantly, he is only taking shots he knows he can knock down. This is key. Too many randomly fired up shots would kill this team, who doesn't offensively rebound enough to make up for stupid shot selection.
- Amongst all of the immense positives in this game, there were two not-so-positives. One of them, Tyrel Reed, wasn't all bad. He was fine on defense, for once, and he is clearly improving on that side of the ball. He didn't look good on offense, but everyone's allowed a bad game here-and-there. The other one is Travis Releford. Damn. I thought this kid was going to develop into a real player as the season progressed; it just hasn't turned out well. He still looks lost out there, at times, and is lightyears behind Tyshawn Taylor in his awareness. I still love his potential, and think he could be a really good player in the next couple of years, but I'm starting to seriously doubt if he'll be a serious contender for playing time come March. Think about it. Counting Mario as a 4 and, therefore, a big, we've got a nine-man rotation, including Releford. Five smalls, four bigs. I'd imagine we are going to cut it down to four smalls and four bigs by Tournament time. And, clearly, there is a Top 4 when it comes to the smalls. And Releford isn't one of them.
Overall, a fabulous performance. Coming in, we weren't quite sure how we would handle our first true conference test. Well, we handled it fabulously. Now, let's see how we can fare on the road against more competent teams, especially Nebraska, who gave Oklahoma a run for their money tonight in Norman.
I'm starting to get seriously scared for that game. Honestly.