For the Kentucky Wildcats, every Southeastern Conference Tournament title is special, no matter how many the program already has. “It’s a good feeling,” stated freshman Jamal Murray, who’s trifecta with 18 seconds remaining in OT sealed the deal. The 16th-ranked Wildcats beat the 17th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies 82-77 for their second straight SEC Tournament championship, in what was a thriller. SEC Tournament titles are treasured by the Kentucky faithful, and the Wildcats (26-8) gave their fans yet another one to celebrate. They’ve only lost this particular game 10 times in the program’s storied history.
These two teams split the regular season title after the Aggies edged Kentucky in College Station in overtime on February 20 and each finished 13-5 in league play. So, it was only fitting that the no.1 and no. 2 seeds would meet this past Sunday afternoon for an epic showdown at Bridgestone Arena to claim the conference title.
Texas A&M (26-8) hadn’t played for a tournament title since 1994 or won one since 1987. The Aggies’ drought continues after they found themselves playing essentially a road game before an arena smothered in Kentucky blue with fans roaring every basket by the Wildcats. “We’re disappointed, but we don’t have time to hang our heads” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. With the NCAA Tournament coming up, the Aggies are amongst one of many college experts and aficionados final four picks.
Texas A&M led 38-34 at halftime. In a game featuring 10 ties and eight lead changes, Kentucky had the biggest lead at seven points with 3:59 left on a 3-pointer by Murray, and were up 71-65 on two free throws by Poythress with 1:43 left in the game. Kennedy had been expecting a breakout game from House at some point, and did he ever get it. “This is when we needed it,” said Kennedy. Danuel House Jr. scored a career-high 32 points for the Aggies, albeit a losing effort. With the performance of his career, House forced overtime by first hitting a 3-pointer to pull within two points, then tying the score at 71 with a driving lay-up at the end of regulation.
House Jr. hit his last 3 to force the final tie at 75. Derek Willis, then, hit his 3, with a minute left in overtime to put Kentucky ahead to stay. Murray, then added the most crucial 3-pointer of the game with 15 seconds left, because it put the Cats up two possessions.
Jalen Jones had 15 points and 9 rebounds for the Aggies. Senior point guard Alex Caruso added another 11 points and 8 rebounds. The Aggies out-rebounded Kentucky 41-35.
Tyler Ulis, tournament MVP played all 45 minutes and scored a career-high 30 points for Kentucky. Murray added 17 points. Willis, Alex Poythress and Isaiah Briscoe all finished with 10. The Wildcats are now 20-2 in this tournament in Nashville, and 17-2 in this arena. Coach John Calipari has won five tournament titles with the Kentucky Wildcats.