It could be viewed as the perfect storm for the Texas A&M men’s basketball team.
Coming off two very disappointing losses, one of which was among their worst efforts of the season, the Aggies (12-8, 3-4) travel Florida to face the No. 3 Gators (18-2, 7-0).
In short, after losing by 28 points to South Carolina, a team that until Wednesday had no Southeastern Conference wins, the Aggies turn around and face a 17-point favorite and the lone team without an SEC loss.
Odds are not on A&M’s side, but the Aggies are trying to put a different slant on things.
“You could put it a little bit of both [good or bad timing for this game] because they are the No. 3 team in the country, it is going to be a hard win,” A&M sophomore point guard Alex Caruso said. “But also good because it’s kind of gut check time to see how we are really going to finish off the year.”
A&M started the SEC season well, winning its first three games, but have lost four straight since, three of which came against teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the standings.
“I hope we go there and play with a little passion and energy more than what we did the first 10 minutes against South Carolina,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “It will be a tough atmosphere. I think they’ve beaten teams pretty good at Florida and it’s a very good team, one of their better teams in the last couple of years. We will have to play extremely well to give ourselves a chance.”
A&M had little chance against the Gamecocks after a 17-2 run gave them a 38-17 lead. A&M has had trouble scoring for a majority of the season, but its defense failed in the loss to South Carolina, who A&M beat two weeks earlier 75-67.
“We spent two hours yesterday going back to fundamentals, guarding people and working defensively,” Kennedy said. “Our interior defense hasn’t been very good and our on-the-ball defense out front hasn’t been very good. We’ve got to guard people because our offense is going to be up and down.”
A&M also must make sure it doesn’t check out mentally after losing four straight.
“Spirits were down a little earlier in the week after the game. It’s nothing a team wants to go through, getting outplayed, out-hustled, outworked, there are no excuses for that,” Caruso said. “We came together as a group of players and the coaches told us to get it right and I think we did. We came back to the realization that we are not a good individual team. We don’t have guys that can go out and get 30 each night and [lead] us to victory. We are the type of team that has to grind out every victory has to play harder than the opponent, has to work for the little things to be able to get wins.”
Grinding will be difficult against a veteran Gator squad that allows the fewest points in the SEC (60.9).
“The thing that is good about Florida is they have four senior starters who have won a lot of games …,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been through the grind, been in the program a long time.”
A&M freshman guard Shawn Smith will likely check senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who is averaging 12.2 points while shooting 39 percent from 3 and handing out the third-most assists per game (3.7) in the SEC.
Smith, like Young, is from Jacksonville, Fla. and was recruited by Florida. He’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I can’t wait,” said Smith. “It should be a big game for me.
“I think it’s the perfect time [to face Florida]. We are pretty much in a slump, so it’s going to be a dogfight, we’re going out fighting and scratching because we are desperate for a win. We really need this one.”
NOTES — A&M will be the second of three games for Florida in a five-day span. The Gators won at Mississippi State on Thursday and host Missouri on Super Tuesday. ... One break for A&M is Chris Walker, a 6-foot-10 five-star recruit who missed the first semester due to academics and then sat out while the NCAA reviewed his eligibility, can not play until the Missouri game.