No. 17 Texas A&M pulls away from Florida in SEC quarterfinals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy hoped his team can improve from a Southeastern Conference Tournament win over Florida that looked good — to him — only on the scoreboard.
Jalen Jones made a go-ahead layup with 2:08 remaining and Alex Caruso followed with a steal and layup 13 seconds later to key a 7-0 run that pushed No. 17 Texas A&M past Florida 72-66 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.
Playing for the first time as the tournament's top seed, the Aggies (25-7) needed everything and everybody to break free of a Florida team that stayed with them throughout a tight game featuring 11 ties and seven lead changes. Something also had to give in a contest in which both teams shot just 39 percent.
Texas A&M ultimately prevailed by making shots when needed, along with a key takeaway.
"We didn't play well offensively, but we gutted it out," Kennedy said.
Danuel House followed those two quick baskets with a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to provide some more room, and freshman Admon Gilder's two free throws with 22.8 seconds to go sealed the Aggies' seventh straight win. Caruso added two more foul shots six seconds later and the Aggies advanced for the first time since their inaugural appearance in 2013.
As bad as Texas A&M shot, it scored 44 points in the paint, recorded 11 assists and committed just seven turnovers. And most importantly, it's still in contention for the SEC championship.
"The first game in any tournament is the hardest game to win," Kennedy said. "All the places I've been coaching, you've got to get past an ugly first round game. ... Hopefully, we got the ugliness out of us."
House and Tyler Davis each scored 15 points for Texas A&M, which will face LSU in the semifinals Saturday. Jones finished with 13 points.
Kasey Hill's 18 points led five players in double figures for eighth-seeded Florida (19-14).
Dorian Finney-Smith and John Egbunu each added 11 points for Florida, but Egbunu fouled out with just under three minutes left. Texas A&M then made several plays in the closing minutes to seal the back-and-forth game.
"Both teams played hard," House said. "We played scrappy, and I'm just grateful we got the victory."
A day after dispatching Arkansas, Florida sought another win to help solidify its NCAA Tournament resume. The Gators gave it a run for a while, trading baskets and leads with the Aggies up to the 2:24 mark as Hill made two free throws to tie the game at 61.
Then came the final swing for Texas A&M, which closed the game on an 11-5 spurt.
First came Jones' glide to the hoop, one of several athletic plays by the Aggies. Caruso followed by picking off a pass and racing down the court for another easy basket.
"We had a couple of key turnovers that led to points that really hurts us," Florida coach Mike White said. "They did a good job of taking care of the basketball and playing with the lead."
House's long-range jumper provided the exclamation point, though it came down to free throws by Gilder and Caruso to make it final.
Florida: Devin Robinson and Kevaughn Allen each had 10 points for the Gators, who outrebounded the Aggies 45-43. Finney-Smith had nine boards.
Texas A&M: The Aggies entered the game having won their last six by an average margin of 10.1 points.
Florida's loss leaves the Gators awaiting Selection Sunday to see whether they are part of the field. White didn't want to speculate on the scenarios but said conference officials put together a quality schedule while noting the quality of the SEC.
"Wherever we're sent, we'll be excited to play," White said, "or we'll find the right guys that are excited to play. We'll continue to represent Florida and play hard and look to improve."
Florida: Awaiting postseason announcement.
Texas A&M: Faces LSU in Saturday's semifinal.