Madison Square Garden — After being slighted from the NCAA Tournament despite reaching the SEC final left a bad taste with the Aggies. The snub by the selection committee drew criticism from Aggies coach Buzz Williams and others. So Texas A&M had a lot to prove entering the NIT Tournament.
Quenton Jackson poured in 18 points and Texas A&M (27-12) advanced to the NIT championship game Tuesday night with a 72-56 rout of Washington State.
The Aggies will play for the title Thursday night against Xavier who beat St. Bonaventure 84-77 in the first game of the doubleheader.
Tyrell Roberts led Washington State (22-15) with 14 points. He was the only Cougars player to score double figures. Efe Abogidi had nine points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
“They didn’t miss,” Roberts said. “They were getting to the rack, which is what they do. They were making contested and-1s, tough 2s. They just went on a run and we weren’t taking care of the ball.
WSU shot 34.5% from the hardwood and 7 of 29 from downtown – 3 of 17 after the break. The Cougars’ leading scorer on the season, senior point guard Michael Flowers – came off a 27-point game against BYU in the quarterfinals and a 22-point outburst against SMU in the round prior – was held to five points on 2-of-12 shooting from the court (0 of 5 from 3).
“He had a big hand in us having this great run in the postseason,” Smith said of Flowers, a first-year Cougar who broke Klay Thompson’s program record for single-season 3-pointers in the BYU game. “Really special person who will do really good things in life.”
The Cougars appeared disjointed on offense for extended stretches in the first half and committed 10 of their 17 turnovers. They had coughed up the ball a total of six times, nine and eight times in their past three contests.
Texas A&M’s offense was rolling and took a 32-26 lead into the break
In the second half, the Aggies stepped on the gas and extended their lead to 15-points after playing four minutes in the half when Hassan Diarra completed a game-changing, four-point play.
The lead had grown to 27 at the 9:30 mark as the Aggies flowed downcourt and made buckets which frustrated Cougars’ zone defense. A&M shot 80% from the field at the halfway point of the second half.
“They didn’t make the tournament, and that’s really shocking,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. We’re proud of what we’ve done (this season), but we’ve got a lot more work to do. We ran into a better team tonight. We haven’t really played anyone like them this year, but that should be good for us moving forward.”
Texas A&M got the ball inside and outscored Washington State 40-30 in the second half to pull away. Even through the Aggies missed 12 of 14 attempts from downtown, they shot 48.5% (32 for 66) from the field.
Jackson (18 points), Henry Coleman III (16) and Manny Obaseki (14) all shot 50% or better for the Aggies, who doled out 15 assists on 32 field goals.
The Aggies burnt WSU on dribble-drives, blowing past the Cougars’ perimeter defenders for a dozen layups in the game. They outscored WSU 26-4 in the paint before halftime, opening an 11-point lead and stuck with the same game plan in the second half.
“We were able to run a bit in transition,” Aggies guard Quenton Jackson said. “We played with energy and the shots happened to fall. Throughout the game, we tried to stay aggressive (against) their zone and wanted to attack while they were flat-footed.”
“We’re locked in,” Jackson said. “We’re in a great groove right now as a team. The coaching staff has done a great job with the scouting reports and all of that, working overtime. We are overly prepared for whatever is to come next as players. We just have to go out there and play with confidence and stick to the script, and we’ll be all right.”
Texas A&M will play Xavier for the NIT Championship Thursday night at 7 p.m.