COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)Wade Taylor took a minute to reflect on his team’s journey after No. 24 Texas A&M knocked off No. 2 Alabama on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.
“We’ve had a bunch of ups and downs,” Taylor said. “On Dec. 20 we were 6-5 and nobody would have thought we’d be in this position we’re in today. This team is very resilient.”
Taylor scored 28 points and the Aggies beat Alabama 67-61 , making their late free throws after Crimson Tide star Brandon Miller fouled out.
“In the figurative fights they’ve learned not to flinch,” Aggies coach Buzz Williams said. “Our team has improved with each passing game and I think today was another example.”
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Crimson Tide (26-5, 16-2 Southeastern Conference). Alabama played the last two minutes minus Miller, who fouled out after scoring a team-leading 19 points.
“We just didn’t quite have enough,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “They were ready to go and we weren’t. We can’t keep coming out and getting behind double digits early.”
The Aggies (23-8, 15-3) led by two with two minutes left when Miller fouled out chasing down a loose ball. Dexter Dennis made both free throws to make it 61-57.
A basket by Jahvon Quinerly cut the lead to two again with a minute to go, but Taylor made two free throws to make it 63-59 with 30 seconds remaining.
Rylan Griffen missed a 3 for Alabama and the Aggies added two more free throws to pad the lead. Quinerly missed a 3-pointer and A&M made two more free throws with 6 seconds left to seal the victory.
It was another big win for the Aggies, who downed then-No. 11 Tennessee on Feb. 21. They should get a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018, which will be their first trip since Williams took over.
Texas A&M’s 15 conference wins are the most in school history, besting the 1979-80 and 1975-76 teams which each won 14.
“We stayed together throughout this whole process and … we’re not done,” Taylor said. “Just to finish up conference with the most wins in conference in school history is the end of chapter of that book we just wrote. So now it’s time to start volume two.”
SEC champion Alabama lost for the first time since courtroom revelations tied freshmen Miller and Jaden Bradley to the scene of a fatal shooting. Neither has been charged or accused of a crime, but then-teammate Darius Miles and another man are facing capital murder charges.
Police said Miles texted Miller asking him to bring the gun. Miller has started every game and the university said he is a cooperating witness, not a suspect.
The rowdy sellout A&M crowd took every opportunity to heckle Miller. They booed him each time he touched the ball and chanted “lock him up” and “guilty” when he shot free throws.
Alabama took its first lead of the game after a 5-0 run, capped by a 3 from Quinerly, made it 54-51 with 4½ minutes remaining.
Taylor tied it with a 3-pointer soon after that and the Aggies took a 56-54 lead when Tyrece Radford made two free throws after Alabama lost the ball on a charge by Miller.
Miller then picked up his fourth foul when he fouled Taylor on a 3-point attempt. Taylor made all three free throws to push it to 59-54 with less than three minutes to go.
An 8-2 run by Alabama cut the lead to 6 early in the second half. But the Aggies made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to power a 6-2 run that made it 42-32 with 12 ½ minutes to go.
The Crimson Tide then scored the next eight points, with 3s from Quinerly and Noah Clowney, to get within 42-40 with about a 11 minutes left.
The Aggies ended the run by making three free throws, but Miller hit a 3 soon after to start a 5-0 spurt that tied it at 45-all.
The Aggies led 32-22 at halftime after limiting Alabama to its fewest points in a half this season. The Crimson Tide got off to a poor start on long-range shooting, making just 2 of 19 3-pointers before halftime.
Oats was asked about his team’s slow starts recently.
“If we had the exact answer I would try to fix it,” he said. “I’m not sure, but we’re going to talk about and see if we can fix it. We’ve got to figure out a way to get them more prepared.”
The Crimson Tide finished 7 of 36 on 3-pointers. Saturday continued a stretch of poor 3-point shooting over the last four games where they’ve made just 25 of 116 3s.
“The way we play it certainly helps to make shots,” Oats said. “We’ll get back in the gym and try to get it fixed.”
These teams will be in the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week where Alabama will be the top seed and Texas A&M will be No. 2.
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