ANAHEIM, Calif. — The clutch 3-pointers and quick layups drew the bulk of the attention during Texas A&M’s rally from a 12-point deficit in the final 44 seconds of regulation Sunday in its (eventual) double-overtime victory over Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
It was the Aggies’ defensive intensity, however, that created the ruckus that fueled a finish that deserves its own One Shining Moment reel. The Aggies pressed and scored nine points off turnovers in that final minute of regulation. It’s that defensive pressure that could change Thursday’s Sweet 16 game against Oklahoma.
But the Sooners said they’re not intimidated by the pressure of a Texas A&M defense ranked 13th in raw efficiency because they’ve faced stubborn teams all season, including West Virginia in Big 12 play and VCU in the second round.
So if Texas A&M throws that press — not the norm for Billy Kennedy’s squad — at Oklahoma in the closing minutes of a tight game …
“No disregard to them,” Sooners star Buddy Hield said, “but West Virginia’s probably the best pressing team in the country, so I don’t think it should be anything we haven’t seen before.”
Fellow senior guard Isaiah Cousins said the experiences from previous matchups against the Mountaineers and other Big 12 opponents will also help Oklahoma as it gets ready to battle a Texas A&M team that dominated the post (A&M is averaging an NCAA tournament-high 45.0 paint points per game while holding opponents to just 20.0 PPG inside, tied with Syracuse for the lowest mark in the Sweet 16) during the first two rounds and boasts big bodies at every spot on the floor.
“Playing West Virginia definitely helps us because of how physical and how aggressive they are during the press, and how much they pride themselves on just getting deflections and constantly, consistently always attacking you,” Cousins said. “I think just by us handling it during the season, it will definitely help us a lot.”