Mirror images Ole Miss, Texas A&M seek scoring punch

NCAA Men's Basketball

Five nonconference wins, a 2-4 conference record, three losses in their past four games, the need to rely on defense. Meet the Texas A&M Aggies. And meet the Ole Miss Rebels.

Suffice to say, both teams badly need a win when Texas A&M (7-5) visits Ole Miss (7-6) in a Southeastern Conference matchup on Saturday afternoon in Oxford, Miss.

Two of the Aggies’ recent losses were to ranked teams, Tennessee and most recently Missouri, by nearly identical scores of 68-54 and 68-52. The problems aren’t new: turnovers and spotty shooting.

“We struggle to get a shot because of our turnover rate, and when we do get a shot, obviously we’re not shooting a great percentage,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said Thursday.

The Aggies are in the bottom tier of Division I in scoring at 64 points a game — worst in the SEC — and in turnovers at 16.3 per game, and in the lower half in the nation in field goal percentage (42.6 percent) and on 3-pointers (29.8 percent).

Oh, and they haven’t played since the Missouri loss on Saturday because their scheduled Wednesday opponent, Vanderbilt, was dealing with COVID-19 issues.

Williams sees optimism on two fronts, however. His primary ball handlers, Andre Gordon and Hassan Diarra, each had only two turnovers last week, encompassing two games. And the team’s practices on Monday and on Tuesday were perhaps the best “back-to-back days we’ve had since all of this started,” going back to mid-October, he said.

Emanuel Miller leads the Aggies with 15.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 57.8 percent shooting from the floor. Next is Quenton Jackson at 10.7 points and 50 percent shooting.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, ended a three-game skid on Tuesday by unleashing a zone defense that held Mississippi State to 34.6 percent shooting as the Rebels won 64-46.

“We went in thinking that … when they put certain lineups on the floor, we would go to zone, and we did. Sometimes you can just hit teams right. We [started] matching up with them. The biggest key for us was rebounding the ball out of zone,” coach Kermit Davis said.

“I thought our zone defense kept them out of the paint, so maybe that’s something that can be looked at, get better at, get a little confidence in, maybe we can make some adjustments and play more of.”

The Aggies were watching.

“They played more zone than they did in all of their conference games combined against Mississippi State,” Williams said. “They play a unique half-court zone that starts in one alignment, and then predicated on where the ball goes, it turns into a different type of zone, kinda morphs into something else.”

Not that good defense from the Rebels is a surprise. They’re 31st in Division I in allowing 62.5 points per game, and in the top 20 in forcing 17.2 turnovers per game, threatening one of the Aggies’ vulnerabilities.

Texas A&M is not far behind on points allowed, giving up 64.7 per game, 52nd in the country.

Devontae Shuler leads the Rebels at 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Romello White is averaging 10.5 points and Jarkel Joiner is right behind at 10.1.

–Field Level Media

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