By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., Nov. 25, 2016 – What looked like a wire-to-wire victory for Virginia Tech turned into a high-wire act from Texas A&M Friday and the Aggies refused to falter.
A 28-win team last season, A&M is still mixing and matching, searching for the right combinations to surround returning center Tyler Davis. It’s starting to take shape.
Down by 17 points with 15 minutes left, Texas A&M pulled together and willed its was past Virginia Tech, 68-65, to reach the championship game of the Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym. The Aggies (4-1) will face UCLA/NEBRASKA on Sunday afternoon at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Still smarting from a home loss to USC on Nov. 18, A&M found a way to slow down the high-flying Hokes (4-1), who had made 7 of 15 3-point shots in the first half to pull the Aggies out of their zone defense and give them a few things to ponder with a 38-25 halftime deficit.
“I think (the loss) was probably the best thing for us because it showed we can lose at any time,” sophomore guard Admon Gilder said. “We had a great practice after that loss and we kept going forward. It was going with Coach’s plan going inside out and we’re doing a good job with that.”
In addition to the 6-foot-10 Davis, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, it was a bit of a coming-out party for freshman forward Robert Williams, who finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, a block and two steals as he sailed off the paint.
“Robert can jump out of the gym,” Gilder said. “He has probably a 44-inch vertical and when we were going through summer workouts when he first came in, it was surprising to see that because we hadn’t seen that in this program. He takes a lot off me and J.C. (Hampton) and the guards in general because when we throw it up to him, we know he’s going to get it.”
First, A&M had to settle itself on offense. Then, Gilder became the floor general that Coach Billy Kennedy hoped for.
A jumper by Gilder got the Aggies started on an 18-4 run and suddenly, with 8:13 left, it was a three-point game and A&M was in a stretch where it converted eight consecutive field goals. The confidence restored, it didn’t matter that Virginia Tech bounced back to push its lead up to nine points. The Aggies erased that with an offensive rebound and put-back by Williams to tie it at 63-63 with 3:34 left.
Forward D.J. Hogg hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:03 left to give A&M its first lead and one the Aggies wouldn’t relinquish.
“Well, we ran our offense,” Kennedy said of the difference in halves. “We didn’t take quick shots, we moved the ball and we started putting pressure on the rim. We missed a lot of layups early on and we finished some shots and it opened up the perimeter for us some and Admon Gilder did a really good job of settling in for us at the point position.”
Hogg had 13 of his 17 team-high 17 points in the second half and added 10 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double. Gilder had 14 points and seven assists.Guard Ahmed Hill had 18 points, all on 3-point shots, and guard Justin Robinson had 14 points and five assists for the Hokies.