COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Early in Tuesday night’s game, someone on Tennessee’s bench reminded Texas A&M’s Wade Taylor IV of what happened the last time these teams met last season in the Southeastern Conference tournament title game.
“One of the dudes on the bench said: ‘thanks for the ring last year in the tournament,’” Taylor said. “And that just kind of stuck with me throughout the game.”
Taylor made sure the result would be different this time around, scoring 25 points, including four free throws down the stretch, and No. 25 Texas A&M extended its winning streak to six games with a 68-63 victory over No. 11 Tennessee.
“I thought that the fight and the togetherness and the spirit that they competed with … was as good as I’ve ever seen,” coach Buzz Williams said.
The Aggies (21-7, 13-2) are off to their best start since joining the SEC in the 2012-13 season.
It’s the fourth loss in five games for the Volunteers (20-8, 9-6), with their only win in this stretch coming in a 68-59 victory over then-No. 1 Alabama on Wednesday.
Julius Marble made two free throws with 46 seconds left to push Texas A&M’s lead to 64-61.
A 3-point attempt by Olivier Nkamhoua bounced off the rim with 33 seconds remaining and the Aggies knocked the ball out of bounds to give the Volunteers the ball back.
Zakai Zeigler made a layup to cut the lead to 1 with 25 seconds left.
Santiago Vescovi stole the inbounds pass after a timeout by A&M, but Taylor grabbed it right back before being fouled. He made both free throws to make it 66-63 with 17 seconds remaining.
Zeigler shot an air ball on his 3-point attempt after that and Taylor was fouled again and he made two more free throws to secure the win.
Marble was asked about the big plays the Aggies made in crunch time.
“It starts in practice,” he said. “The coaching staff prepares us for situations like this where we’ve got to get a stop. We practice that all the time so we were pretty poised in those situations.”
Vescovi and Zeigler had 14 points each for Tennessee.
“Overall I know our guys are disappointed. … We put ourselves into position to win, we just didn’t close it out at the end,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Marble added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Aggies, who haven’t lost since Jan. 21.
A free throw by Marble extended Texas A&M’s lead to four points with about three minutes left. But Zeigler got a steal and finished with a 3 on the other end to get Tennessee within 62-61 with less than two minutes to go to set up the wild finish.
The Aggies were down by 1 early in the second half before using a 10-0 run, with the help of two turnovers, to take a 50-41 lead with 12 minutes to go.
Dexter Dennis made four points in that stretch and Marble had four points, including a dunk.
The Volunteers got their first points in more than 3 ½ minutes after that when Vescovi made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 50-44.
Texas A&M led by 6 midway through the second half before Nkamhoua made a 3-pointer to start an 8-3 run that cut the lead to 57-56 with seven minutes remaining.
AT THE LINE
The Aggies made 28 of 34 free throws while Tennessee had just 14 attempts, making 10.
Barnes was disappointed in his team’s fouling overall, but particularly upset with the two times his players fouled the Aggies while they were attempting 3-pointers, which led to five points.
“We just can’t do that,” Barnes said.
Tennessee: Hosts South Carolina on Saturday night.
Texas A&M: Visits Mississippi State on Saturday.