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November 10, 2012

Aggies open with win over La. Tech

A few late evening thoughts on A&M's season opening win at Reed tonight:

This team is going to win with defense, and they played it very well tonight. They held a pretty athletic Tech team to 35% shooting, including 6-22 from 3. This was more Billy Gillispie's kind of defense -- in the ballhandler's face, tough man defense, jumping passing lanes, dropping down on bigs when they get the ball and taking charges. The Aggies broke Tech's back when they came out and held them to 1 of their first 12 in the second half and stretched at 5 point lead to 14. This is a more athletic team than you might think, but they're going to win the way we're used to seeing.

Tech coach Michael White said after the game that he was really impressed with how A&M defended. "We were cold for 40 minutes, and a lot of that has to do with how well they defended," he said.

Even though there's a lot of new faces on this team and a lot of turnover from last year, they already look like they are more cohesive and have better chemistry than the 2011 edition. Elston Turner touched on that after the game. "We've been together all summer, all the way through summer school," he said. "Last year, we didn't have a coaching staff until the middle of the summer."

A guy from Tech asked me midway through the 3rd quarter of this was the best game of Alex Caruso's career. I replied, "yes, without question," but didn't bother to tell him it was also Caruso's first game. He sure didn't look like a freshman, because virtually every facet of his game is advanced beyond where you would think it would be for a guy in the first game of his first year. He blew a layup, but otherwise, he was stellar: good shot selection, hitting open threes, diving on the floor for steals, taking charges, dunking and--maybe most impressively--making really good passes to set up his teammates. He can handle the ball well and hustles all the time. Comparisons to Chris Walker aren't accurate; he's a much more complete player already.

This team is built better for what Billy Kennedy wants to do. When J-Mychal Reese, Fabyion Harris and Caruso are all out on the court together with Elston Turner and a big, they're fast and have the ability to get to the basket. On the other side of the ball, they can press you. I think we'll see a good bit of this.

Turner's the guy who makes the offense work, without question. A&M had a 5-point lead at the half, but they seemed disoriented for much of the first half because Tech worked hard to take Turner away. Other guys (Harris especially) did a good job of picking up the slack, but Kennedy called a play for his leading scorer right out of the gate in the 2nd half, Turner converted and went on a tear pretty much bury Tech. He had 15, including 3 for 7 from beyond the arc.

Fabyion Harris already is what Dash Harris was supposed to be. He had 14 points, 4 assists and 1 turnover tonight. Even though he's the smallest guy on the floor (and a good bit smaller than Dash), he's not afraid to penetrate, take a hit and draw a foul on his way to the basket. If you leave him open, he'll shoot the three far better than the other Harris. He's a little sparkplug and he and Reece bring "character" to the team, which Kennedy said last year's team missed.

After several years of sloppy play, A&M really was better when it came to turnovers tonight. They had 12, but only 4 in the second half. Reese and Harris did a really good job handling the ball. Reese only had 2 assists and 2 turnovers, but that was a little misleading: he did a nice job breaking Tech's press down.

Kourtney Roberson was a force tonight. He had 12 points on 5-7 shooting, 6 boards, including 3 offensive boards. Tech had more offensive rebounds (12) than A&M (11), but the Aggies did a much better job converting theirs. Roberson was a big reason for that. He showed no ill effects of his foot injury, beating up on Tech inside. "After my first basket, I turned to Elston and said, 'I'm back,'" he said afterward.

Andrew Young looks like he could be in the cast of Sons of Anarchy, and he played the role of tough guy tonight. He had 6 points and 8 rebounds in 17 minutes, but he got a lot tougher as the game went on. He went up soft with a couple shots early and got them swatted back at him, and at the point he decided it was time to muscle up. Kennedy said he's going to go big man by committee this year, and Young certainly didn't hurt his cause tonight. Keith Davis may see his minutes dry up if Young continues to contribute like this.

This is a much more enjoyable team to watch than 2011's. They may be even more fun to watch than 2010's team, even though it won a lot.


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