Mississippi State knocks off Texas A&M for a needed victory

Published 7:35 pm Saturday, February 25, 2023

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State’s NCAA Tournament hopes might not be finished after all.

Tolu Smith scored 17 points and Shakeel Moore added 14 as Mississippi State beat No. 25 Texas A&M 69-62 on Saturday.

Cameron Matthews had 11 points for the Bulldogs (19-10 overall, 7-9 Southeastern Conference), who held the Aggies to one field goal in the final 14 minutes and outscored them 34-18 during the same period.

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Mississippi State, which is on the NCAA Tournament bubble, picked up a needed quality win after losing two of its previous three games.

“It’s been fun,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said of his team’s success in February. “It’s been rewarding. We had plenty of close games earlier and we were not on the correct side of the ledger when the final buzzer went off. For whatever reason, our group had to go through some tough experiences to learn and grow. They did that and it makes you feel good when they respond like that. They stuck with the process and now they are being rewarded for it.”

Wade Taylor IV led Texas A&M (21-9, 13-3) with 21 points, including four 3-pointers, and Henry Coleman III and Andersson Garcia each scored 11.

Texas A&M opened the second half on a 16-5 run and took a 44-35 lead after an Andre Gordon’s 3-pointer with 14:09 remaining. After a Mississippi State timeout, the Aggies then went over 12 minutes without a field goal and Mississippi State responded with a 12-2 run to take the lead for good.

“It was just time to regroup,” Jans said of that timeout. “We talked at halftime that they were not going to go anywhere. There’s a reason they were 13-2 in the SEC and had won eight (SEC) games in a row. Tough-minded group, got great culture, play the right way.

“We just didn’t get out of the second half very well. I’m not sure why but we didn’t. So obviously we needed to regroup and they responded. Defensively, we got a bunch of stops in a row and got out in transition. Once that happened the crowd was huge and they played a vital role in our comeback.”

Mississippi State shot 44 percent for the game but made just 3 of 21 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs shot 20-of-30 at the foul line and both teams had 31 rebounds.

Texas A&M shot 40 percent from the field and were 8-of-22 from 3-point range. The Aggies also had 16 turnovers and shot 20 for 26 from the line.

“I think No. 1 (Tolu Smith) is terrific,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said. “He’s their leading scorer and rebounder, and third in assists and he has not shot a 3-pointer this year. That is a rare combination. They are dependent on what he does. They cause so much pressure on the rim and a lot of it is due to (Smith).”