By DUDEY E. DAWSON
Once upon a time, Texas A&M was 6-5 overall and one of the teams that looked like it might be finishing in the basement of the SEC.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and the Aggies have won 13 of 15 games and suddenly have a legitimate shot to win or share the league crown.
Wade Taylor had 13 of his team-high 18 points after intermission as Texas A&M rallied from a 12-point deficit right before halftime to down visiting Arkansas 62-56 before 11,315 fans at Reed Arena in College Station.
The win along with No. 1 Alabama’s loss at Tennessee moved the Aggies (19-7, 11-2) within a game of the SEC-leading Crimson Tide (22-4, 12-1).
“They just don’t flinch and they are very accepting of who they are, who we are and what we have to do and why we had to do it to win,” Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams said of his players. “They are a very low ego group that has incredible togetherness and play with a chip (on their shoulder). The right kind of chip. There’s zero selfishness.
“So many things have to transpire to win 11 out of 13 (SEC) games. So many things have to transpire when you are 6-5 to win 13 out of 15 and none of it is possible without elite character out of all he people in the program.
“And I don’t think any it happens unless they accepting of their situation and are willing to do the work. Not that it ensures success, but that it gives you chance at success.”
Arkansas used a 9-0 run, a spree capped by Anthony Black’s free throw to give the Razorbacks (17-9, 6-7) a 33-21 lead with 26 seconds left before intermission.
But Texas A&M’s Hayden Hefner buried a 3-pointer – his only basket of the game – to cut it to 33-24.
Williams said that play was a misdirection of sorts and one his team had botched when it tried to run it four games earlier.
“I told them ‘when I sub, I want the guy that I sub to act like he is confused,’” Williams said. “I also said ‘whoever the kids are on the floor, be talking about not botching it and you’ll know who I subbed and act like you think they don’t know. Whey they sub in, you tell him his job.’
“It was masterful. Henry was so real in acting confused. He was over here yelling at me ‘coach, who do I have?’ And I forgot that I had mentioned to him ‘act like you don’t know who you have’ so I’m like ‘what the?’ I got mad, but he hit a big shot.”
That was the start of a 17-4 that pushed the Aggies ahead 38-37 when Taylor, who had 11 points in the spree, drove for a lay up at the 16:16 mark.
“We just needed to start being us, instead of the team that played in the first half,” Taylor said. “Ending the first half, Hefner making that shot gave us a lot of momentum going into the locker room. That kind of showed us that we were still good and that if we could come out during the second half and get stops and make shots then we would be alright.”
Arkansas would steady itself and used a 7-0 run ending with a Black dunk that surge the Razorbacks ahead 49-44 with 9:27 remaining in a contest the visitors led for over 31 minutes.
But the Aggies, who led for just five minutes in the game, again rallied and took a 55-53 lead with 3:16 left on a rebound basket by Dexter Dennis.
Dennis, a former teammate of Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV at Wichita State, had 14 points and 11 rebounds and cashed in 4 of 4 free throws in final 23 seconds to put the emotional victory away.
The Aggies were 19 of 54 from the field, 6 of 12 from 3-point range and 18 of 22 from the free throw line in the win.
“I feel like every game is like that,” Dennis said “We all feel that we are playing for something bigger than ourselves. Every week and every game, we think that this is the biggest game of our careers. Emotionally, physically, and mentally, we are really invested all the time.”
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics