Hop's South Carolina Game Analysis

The Texas Aggie basketball team continued on its conference hot streak with a come from behind victory over the upstart South Carolina Gamecocks. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a deeper look behind the numbers and breaks down the performance of the Aggies.

Ironically, I think the best thing to happen to the Aggie hoops team last night was fall behind immediately 14-3. It got the Tennessee win out of their system quickly and it scared the hell out of them. It also gave them plenty of time to reel in the Gamecocks...and they needed almost 30 minutes to do it.

Overall, I was amazed at how dominant USC was on the boards. At the half, they out-rebounded A&M by 20-10. They scored eight more points on second chance shots than the Aggies, and that was the big difference early. The other major factor was the inability of A&M to handle the on-ball pressure by USC. It's funny, because teams found early success packing a zone against A&M, and it took about a month for the Aggies to adjust and learn to attack the zone. Of course, it helps when your star JUCO forward starts getting comfortable and hitting big shots over the zone.

So I think Frank Martin surprised the Aggies early when he employed an aggressive man defense, overplaying passing lanes and daring A&M ball handlers to attack the basket. It worked early because Alex Caruso was having fits with the pressure, and A&M had difficulties initiating its offensive sets. Caruso and Fabyon Harris combined for five very poor turnovers in the first half that allowed the Gamecocks to get some easy scoring opportunities.

But in the second half, A&M's ballhandlers adjusted to the pressure, controlled the ball better, and started driving and kicking out to the open man. The best and most important possession of the night came at around the 5 minute mark with A&M just retaking the lead at 48-47. Time was winding down on the shot clock, but A&M didn't panic and moved the ball well finding a wide open Shawn Smith in the corner who ripped the nets for a three-ball that sent A&M up 51-47 which got the crowd going and put USC on its heels the rest of the way. The Aggies cruised to the final horn from there.

What also helped in the second half was the aggressive and attacking offensive play of Shawn Smith, Jordan Green, and Jamal Jones. A&M shot 41 free throws last night, and these three combined for 28 attempts alone.

Shawn Smith had his best game as an Aggie, scoring 14 points, hitting both three-point shots, and making 6 of 8 from the charity stripe. They needed Smith last night because Caruso had one of his worst nights, even though he did finish with 7 assists. It also came with 5 turnovers, and the scorekeeper was generous because I had 7 by my count.

Anyway, it makes for a nice story that guys like Smith and Fitzgerald are giving A&M a boost off the bench, but let's cut to the chase. The surge in performance over the past couple of weeks is a direct result of the emergence of Jamal Jones as a versatile weapon on offense to go with the overall scrappy team defense. I've been saying throughout those very painful offensive performances in November and December that A&M needed to find its identity on offense. Who was going to be the leader of the offense...a guy that the players look for in the half-court. A guy that attract the attention of defenses which leaves others open. Smith isn't wide open in the corner unless the opposing defense is preoccupied with stopping Jones.

I hate saying I told you so, but even after that first scrimmage I wrote about on the site, I said the key to this season was going to be Jamal Jones, and I was most surprised by his ability to attack the basket and using his long, twisting body to draw fouls and go to the line where he's a 75-80% free throw shooter. In November and December, he relied on his outside shot and taking some ill-advised fade-away jumpers and such, and with the exception of one hot game, he didn;t make a positive impact. He was stone cold in Corpus and he even lost a lot of minutes and you had to wonder if he was going to fade off to the end of the bench, or finally get comfortable and emerge as a critical player for the Aggies.

Luckily for A&M fans so far, he has blossomed...and it has been his comfort with attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. He's even starting to create a few assists off the drive. But bottom line, this team is 3-0 and surprising people because Jamal Jones has emerged as a legitimate all-SEC caliber player. Now, can he hold up physically and emotionally to an 18-game SEC schedule? That's the biggest question going forward. If the answer is yes, then this team can finish 11-7 or better in SEC play. If not, A&M will still be scrapping to hit the .500 mark.

A&M has trimmed its rotation to eight, and there's not much quality depth after that. Injuries will play a big key the rest of the way. They simply can't afford to lose one of Jones or Roberson and expect to be an upper division SEC team.

So this team is still very fragile and we should take nothing for granted with this team with 15 games still left on the conference schedule. But with some luck on the injury front and if Jones is here to stay as an all-conference type of player, I can definitely see a top 4-5 finish for the squad and a postseason berth.

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