TAMPA, Fla. – Texas A&M isn’t done reviving its season after an arduous, month-long tailspin threatened its chances of earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies improved to 7-1 since an eight-game skid, bolstering their case to get at least an at-large berth with a 67-62 victory over fourth-ranked Auburn in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday.
“It's something that we needed to go through. Everything that we went through earlier in the season literally has prepared us for now. Every game that we lost was a test,” Aggies leading scorer Quenton Jackson said.
“At some point you've got to pass the test," Jackson added. “You study, you study, you study, you study. We failed eight times. But the ninth time, we won.”
Tyrece Radford scored 19 points and Jackson made five throws in the final minute Friday as the Aggies avenged a 75-58 loss in February to the SEC regular-season champions and advanced to Saturday's semifinals against No. 15 Arkansas.
Jackson also had a dunk and a key block late, finishing with 17 points and helping Texas A&M (22-11) follow up an 83-80 overtime victory over Florida with another strong outing. Auburn (27-5) was presented with the regular-season trophy before the game, then struggled mightily.
The Tigers missed 15 of their first 17 3-point attempts. They finished 9 of 36 behind the arc while shooting 30.4% overall.
“Give A&M credit. They played inspired. They played like their hair was on fire because they're trying to get into the NCAA Tournament,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who urged his team to keep the loss in perspective with the start of the NCAAs less than a week away.
“We wanted to win this championship. We wanted to build momentum going in, and we got beat by a really good team,” Pearl added. “But our guys are pretty humble and pretty hungry. We still are.”
Jabari Smith led Auburn with 17 points. Walker Kessler had 16 points, while Wendell Green Jr. made four long 3-pointers to fuel a late comeback that fell short when Jackson delivered a dunk coming out of a timeout and went 5 of 6 from the foul line down the stretch.
Auburn, ranked No. 1 much of the winter, fell to 3-3 over its last six games.
“They're one of the most talented teams — not only in our league, but in our country,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said. “Their talent overwhelms you, and it's hard to decide how you're going to play them.”
Texas A&M won 15 of 17 games to start the season and was 4-0 in the SEC before hitting its tough stretch. The final loss in the skid was at Auburn, and the Aggies have been on a mission to rescue their season ever since.
Williams said he's doesn't know if the Aggies have already accomplished enough in Tampa to ensure a bid when the NCAA Tournament field is announced on Sunday.
“We’ve won two games. Is that enough? I don’t know," the Aggies coach said. “I am wise enough to understand that if we would not have won seven of our past eight, it wouldn’t even be a conversation.”
For the second straight day, the Aggies started strongly in building a double-digit halftime lead. But unlike Thursday, when Florida rallied to force overtime, Auburn was unable to fully overcome 16% shooting that left the Tigers trailing 37-21 at halftime.
Green made four long 3s from the same spot on the court to help Auburn get back in the game after missing seven of his first eight shots.
Henry Coleman had 16 points, helping Radford carry Texas A&M much of the afternoon while Jackson was riding the bench with three fouls.
Texas A&M: Many felt the Aggies were likely to make the NCAA Tournament after Thursday's win over Florida. Sending Auburn home early figures to lock up a berth.
Auburn: The Tigers are going to have to get more consistent guard play. K.D. Johnson missed all 14 of his shots against Texas A&M. Green finished 5 of 12, but the Tigers trailed by 20 before he finally got going.
Texas A&M: Faces 15th-ranked Arkansas in Saturday’s semifinals.
Auburn: Awaits Sunday’s announcement on seedings for the NCAA Tournament.
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