A repeat performance from a week ago turned into an encore from much earlier this season, and the home crowd left Reed Arena on Saturday all the happier for it.
A week after the Texas A&M men's basketball team blew an 11-point lead in the closing minutes of regulation at Vanderbilt, the Aggies again blew a lead against Tennessee and found itself in overtime. This time the lead was eight points, but this time the Aggies came out on top 68-65 on Antwan Space's 3-pointer with four seconds left.
Space also played hero for A&M (16-11, 7-7) in its 57-56 victory at Tennessee (16-11, 7-7) earlier this season when he hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation. The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward has made just nine treys all season but was the primary read on the play A&M coach Billy Kennedy called.
"He had confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself," Space said. "I just shot it. When it left my hands, I just felt it going in. I could see by how it was lined up that it was a good shot."
For a bit, it looked like A&M might avoid overtime.
Ahead 59-57 with 14 seconds left in regulation, A&M's Alex Caruso missed the front end of a one-and-one. Tennessee struggled getting into its offense on the ensuing possession before Antonio Barton launched a 3-pointer.
Barton's shot was good, and the clock showed zeroes. For a second it looked like the Volunteers had won the game, but Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin had called timeout with 2 seconds remaining.
Kennedy said after the game he heard the whistle, but Space had no idea that Barton's shot didn't count.
"I didn't know. I thought the game was over," Space said
The game wasn't over.
Martin got the matchup he wanted out of the timeout, and again it looked like the game might be over for the Aggies. Tennessee inbounded the ball Jarnell Stokes on the low block, who dunked it as he Caruso fouled him. Stokes, a 68-percent free-throw shooter, went to the line with a chance to win the game, but he missed the free throw, and the same teams who played a four-overtime game last season headed into overtime.
Seesaw OT goes Aggies' way
The teams exchanged baskets through the first four minutes of overtime.
With 43 seconds left, Jordan Green hit a jumper as the shot clock expired to give the Aggies a 65-63 lead. Two free throws by Barton on the next Tennessee possession tied the game at 65 and set the stage for Space's heroics.
And instead of talking about his team blowing another late-game lead, Kennedy was all positive after this one.
"Obviously this is a great win," Kennedy said. "I thought we played really good defense for the majority of the game. I've got a lot of respect for Tennessee. Our guys continue to fight and continue to compete. This time of the year, that's the biggest thing I'm proud of."
When Space hit the game-winning 3, Tennessee's Stokes didn't rush out to contest the shot. Martin says he wouldn't have changed the way Stokes defended the play.
"Not at all. He shot a step-back 3-point shot as a big guy," Martin said. "Jarnell was in front of him. If that's the shot they're going to take, we'll take our chances with the shot because he's in front of him. He made the shot."
Late blemishes don't mar Caruso's work
Despite the late missed free throw and foul, Caruso had one of his best games of the season. He tied for a team-high 14 points, dished out seven assists and didn't have a turnover.
"It's probably his best game in SEC play," Kennedy said. "He made great decisions, got to the rim and finished ... made all of his free throws up until the big one. I know he's disappointed in that, but Alex is all about winning, and he made a lot of winning plays for us today."
The Aggies also got a big lift from senior guard Fabyon Harris, who hadn't scored in double figures since the conference opener against Arkansas on Jan. 8 but netted 13 points Saturday.
"Fabyon was really down the last game, really down," Kennedy said. "He's either really up or really down. I told him, 'You're going to help us win a game.'"
Harris hit 4 of 5 shots including all three of his 3-point attempts. He also had three rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes off the bench to help A&M earn back-to-back wins for the first time since opening conference play 3-0 early last month.
"I think the leadership and the character of our program has gotten better," Kennedy said. "That's why you win close games like this. We were disappointed against Vandy, I talked about competitive character and not finishing off a game. Fortunately today we got a couple of shots and finished the game off."
The next challenge for the Aggies is to win a game on the road against someone other than Tennessee -- A&M is 1-9 away from Reed Arena this season.
The Aggies will face LSU at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La. A&M beat LSU 83-73 on Feb. 12 in College Station.