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Fight to the End

Aggies, Wildcats stage classic duo in SEC championship.



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NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Just how outnumbered was the Texas A&M basketball team in the SEC Tournament championship game against Kentucky?

Even the folks singing the National Anthem were rooting for Kentucky, as one member of country music band Diamond Rio wore a Wildcats shirt during the pregame performance. He blended right in with a Bridgestone Arena crowd of 19,613 that was stuffed to the rafters with rowdy, blue-wearing fans.

That didn't stop the Aggies from putting a massive scare into the place.

A&M and Kentucky waged a classic, trading heroic 3-pointers and defensive stands that ended in an 82-77 overtime victory for the Wildcats.

The game was a rematch of another overtime affair on Feb. 20 inside Reed Arena. A Tyler Davis putback at the buzzer that day propelled A&M on a run that saw it win six consecutive games to close the regular season.

Sunday's thriller may have been even better.

"That's why we finished as co-champions of the SEC," said A&M's Alex Caruso, who finished with 11 points. "The fight from both teams was outstanding, and it's a testament to how good each of these teams are and how well-coached they are."

A&M (26-8) held a four-point lead at the half before Kentucky (26-8) built a seven-point margin with 4:01 remaining in the game.

But the Aggies responded with two quick baskets to draw within three. After a pair of Alex Poythress free throws gave the Wildcats a five point advantage with 1:43 left, Danuel House connected on a 3-pointer and then made a driving, twisting layup with 19 seconds left to tie the game, 71-71.

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis nearly won it at the buzzer with a shot that careened off the rim as time expired.

Ulis started overtime by swishing a three, but House answered with one of his own to tie the game with 1:55 remaining.

Twice in the last minute of the game, the Aggies' gritty defense took Kentucky to the final seconds of the shot clock. But Derek Willis and Jamal Murray both connected on big three-pointers to give the Wildcats an 81-75 lead with 15 seconds remaining. Both baskets came with one second remaining on the shot clock.

House was spectacular for A&M, leading all scorers with a career-high 32 points. Fellow senior Jalen Jones finished with 15, and both were named to the SEC All-Tournament team.

House's 32-point outburst was the most points scored by an A&M player all season. It was a welcome sight for A&M, as House had struggled from the field in Nashville. In the first two games, House was a combined 7-for-28. Sunday, he made 10-of-23.

"I've said for a few weeks now that I thought he would have a breakout game," said A&M coach Billy Kennedy. "This was when we really needed it. To his credit, he stayed with a great work ethic and did a heck of a job today. I'm proud of him for hanging tough."

With performances like that from House, A&M will depart Nashville with the look of a team that can go deep in the NCAA Tournament. Kennedy said after the game he though Wildcats were a Final Four team, which means his squad should be considered the same.

While the Aggies failed to capture their first postseason tournament title since 1987, Sunday's performance earned A&M plenty of respect in the eyes of many national observers.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee agreed, rewarding the Aggies with a 3-seed in the West region while Kentucky drew a 4-seed.

A&M will play 14-seed Green Bay in Oklahoma City on Friday, with a possible A&M-Texas contest in the second round. Texas earned a 6-seed and will play 11-seeded Northern Iowa.

It will be the Aggies first foray into March Madness since Kennedy arrived at A&M.

"We're disappointed (about losing today)," said Kennedy. "But we don't have time to hang our heads or be disrupted in the journey we are trying to accomplish."


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SEC Men's Basketball Tournament Coverage

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Former Texas A&M defensive lineman and Super Bowl Champion