Taylor IV, Marble lead No. 25 Texas A&M in physical 68-63 win over No. 11 Tennessee

Feb 21, 2023; College Station, Texas, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Zakai Zeigler (5) and Texas A&M Aggies forward Julius Marble (34) fight for a loose ball during the first half at Reed Arena. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor IV, Marble lead No. 25 Texas A&M in physical 68-63 win over No. 11 Tennessee

No. 25 Texas A&M 68, No. 11 Tennessee 63

No. 25 Texas A&M toppled No. 11 Tennessee 68-63 behind huge performances by Wade Taylor IV and Julius Marble Tuesday night in College Station. The Aggies (21-7, 13-2 SEC) took advantage of their only opportunity this season against the defensively-elite Volunteers, exacting revenge for an SEC Tournament Championship loss in their last meeting. 

“We are in this position because of the character of the people involved.”

Those were the words of head coach Buzz Williams after Texas A&M gutted out a 62-56 win over Arkansas on Saturday, and they rang true as the Aggies overcame early adversity to topple No. 11 Tennessee and improve to 13-2 in SEC play Tuesday night. The Aggies, once just 6-5 after a home loss to Wofford, have now rattled off 15 wins over their last 17 games and are just a half-game behind No. 2 Alabama atop the SEC standings. 

Wade Taylor IV led the way for Texas A&M with 25 points, five assists, and four steals. Taylor also made 16 of 17 free throws on a night the Aggies made 28 of 34 overall. Forward Julius Marble was hugely impactful for Texas A&M as well, constantly establishing position near the basket and drawing fouls or finishing through contact. Marble finished the night with 21 points and nine rebounds. Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler each scored 14 to pace the Aggies, but the two guards combined to make just six of 21 3-point attempts. 

The 11th-ranked Volunteers (20-8, 9-6 SEC) started the game on a 9-0 run, holding an overly excited Texas A&M team scoreless for more than three minutes to open the night. Aggies forward Dexter Dennis sailed a 3-pointer past the rim while hitting only air as the game entered its first media timeout, prompting head coach Buzz Williams to implore his team to take a deep breath. 

Texas A&M made just one of its first seven shots before Wade Taylor IV’s 3-pointer with 13:45 to go trimmed the deficit to 11-6. Despite the Aggies’ early shooting woes, their defense continued to make life difficult for Tennessee – and after Julius Marble’s jumper narrowed the deficit to 13-10, Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes called a timeout of his own with 10:35 to go. 

For much of the first half, Wade Taylor IV’s offensive output kept the Aggies in the game while they struggled to solve Tennessee’s defense as a whole. Taylor scored 10 straight points at one point for the Aggies, giving him 13 of the team’s first 20. When Andersson Garcia rattled home a 3-pointer with 3:30 to go in the first half to make it 27-24, he became just the third Aggie to score after only Taylor and Julius Marble had contributed previously. 

The Aggies pulled within a point of Tennessee on multiple occasions in the first half’s final three minutes, but struggled to break through for their first lead. It wasn’t until Andre Gordon’s first points of the night, a 3-pointer with 51 seconds to go, that the Aggies pulled ahead 31-29. 

Olivier Nkamhoua, who led the Volunteers with eight points in the first half, converted a layup at the halftime buzzer to tie the game at 31 at the break. Wade Taylor finished the first half with 15 points and two steals, while Julius Marble contributed eight points and four rebounds. Texas A&M made went just 9-for-27 from the field in the first half, and Tennessee held a 21-15 rebounding advantage. 

The first half moved at what felt like a snail’s pace, thanks in large part to refereeing struggles. Four different plays required reviews in the first 20 minutes, which kept the game from finding any consistent tempo. 

For Texas A&M, the intent to create opportunities at the rim was obvious as the second half began. Tennessee committed four fouls over the first 90 seconds of the half, in large part due to Julius Marble and Henry Coleman III establishing position on the block and putting pressure on the Volunteers’ frontcourt players. 

Tyrece Radford found his way onto the scoreboard as the Volunteers committed their sixth foul of the half with still 17:36 to play, converting a 3-point play for a 40-36 Texas A&M lead. Tennessee’s seventh foul of the second half came with 14 minutes to go, setting Texas A&M up to spend plenty of time at the free throw line in the game’s final stanza.

Dexter Dennis, awakening offensively as the second half wore on, sent the 12th Man into a frenzy at Reed Arena with a driving layup at the 13:09 mark for a game-high 46-41 A&M lead. 

As the Aggies continued to punish the middle of Tennessee’s defense and draw fouls, their lead continued to grow. After four consecutive made free throws made Texas A&M 19-for-23 on the night, its lead was 50-41 with less than 12 minutes to go. The Aggies reached the double-bonus with 11:12 to go on Tennessee’s 10th foul since halftime. 

Tennessee narrowed the deficit before long, pulling within a point after Santiago Vescovi’s 3-pointer and Zakai Ziegler’s layup in transition made it 57-56 with 7:08 to go. 

Texas A&M threatened to pull away on multiple occasions in the several minutes that followed, but never could. After the Aggies extended their lead back to four, Zakai Ziegler’s 3-pointer pulled Tennessee back within one as the game entered its final two minutes. 

Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua tried a potentially game-tying 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, but could not convert – and after the basketball was initially ruled out of bounds off of the Volunteers, the referees came together for what felt like the one-hundredth video review of the night. Possession was eventually awarded to Tennessee, and the Volunteers took advantage when Ziegler’s layup made it 64-63 with 25 seconds to go. 

Another video review would ensue just three seconds later as the Aggies nearly gave the basketball away, but Texas A&M retained the basketball. Wade Taylor IV would eventually make his way to the free throw line with 17 seconds left, where he made his 13th and 14th free throws of the night to make it 66-63. 

The Aggies picked up the stop they needed when Ziegler’s triple missed with 3.1 seconds remaining, and Taylor drilled two more free throws to clinch the Aggies’ massive win. 

Texas A&M next travels to Starkville, Miss. for a battle with Mississippi State. If the Aggies can top both the Bulldogs and Ole Miss in their next two games, Buzz Williams’ team can set up a potentially conference-deciding game at home versus Alabama on March 4. 

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