Tennessee won 93-85 at Texas A&M last season in a four-overtime marathon that was the longest game in Volunteers basketball history. Texas A&M earned revenge last month when Antwan Space sank a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left to give the Aggies a 57-56 victory at Tennessee after they’d trailed virtually the entire game.
The two teams meet again Saturday at Texas A&M.
“It’s pretty much become a rivalry,” Space said.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin isn’t ready to call it a rivalry yet. He believes the two teams don’t have enough history with each other to merit that label. Tennessee (16-10, 7-6 SEC) and Texas A&M (15-11, 6-7) have faced each other only seven times.
“I think rivalries are built over time,” Martin said. “You’re talking about years and years of playing an opponent.”
But the way the last two Texas A&M-Tennessee games have gone still lends some intrigue to Saturday’s matchup. Tennessee needs a victory to boost its NCAA tournament hopes and wants to make amends for its collapse against Texas A&M last month.
“We have to go and take this one,” Tennessee guard Antonio Barton said. “They came here and took a game from us, so we’ve got to go out there and take one from them.”
If the Vols fail to earn an NCAA bid, they’ll likely look back on their Jan. 11 loss to Texas A&M as one of the games that kept them out of the field.
Tennessee blew a 14-point halftime advantage and lost despite holding Texas A&M without a basket in the last 9 1/2 minutes of the first half. The Vols still led by two points and were in position to seal the victory when Jeronne Maymon missed two free throws with 17 seconds left. Space then made the 3-pointer that gave the Aggies an improbable victory.
“It was a terrible loss for us, especially in the fashion that it happened,” Maymon said. “I’m pretty sure that’s always going to sting.”
Tennessee remains on the NCAA tournament bubble and can’t afford a second loss to Texas A&M, which has the worst RPI of any team to beat the Vols this season. The Aggies’ victory at Tennessee remains their only win away from home all season.
Texas A&M has reason to feel confident. The Aggies own a 14-2 home record and have won their last three home games by an average margin of 15 points. Tennessee is 2-6 in true road games.
But the Vols are coming off an impressive 67-48 victory over Georgia that snapped the Bulldogs’ four-game winning streak. Jarnell Stokes was dominant against Georgia with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Barton ended a prolonged slump by shooting 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“We’re playing a very good team and it’s a big game for us,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We’ve got to be able to put back-to-back games together. We haven’t been able to do that in the last couple of weeks.”