Space had only made 2-of-6 shots over the previous two hours in Reed Arena, but the sophomore forward oozed confidence when letting a 3-pointer fly in the final seconds of overtime against Tennessee.
“I felt that one,” Space said of his heave. “I knew that was going in.”
Space was awfully familiar with the feeling, having helped defeat Tennessee 57-56 on Jan. 11 on a last-second 3-pointer that hushed a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd.
“That’s his shot, and I don’t love it all of the time,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said of Space’s fondness for long-range offerings. “But it’s been good against Tennessee for a last shot.”
Space, who began his college career at Florida State before sitting out last season following a transfer to A&M, entered the contest having made 7-of-29 3-pointers. He hadn’t scored in the overtime prior to receiving the pass to the right of the top of the key following an A&M time out.
He calmly dribbled twice, and with Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes on defense, pulled up for the shot about a foot behind the 3-point line. The result was the loudest Reed Arena has been this season for the Aggies (16-11 overall, 7-7 SEC), who’ve won four straight at home and two overall in trying to make the postseason for the first time in Kennedy’s three seasons.
Following Tennessee’s desperation inbounds pass, Space stole the ball - launching it toward the Reed rafters in jubilation - in preserving the victory. In the time out, Kennedy had designed a play for Space to drive to the basket on Stokes - not launch a 3-pointer - but in the end the Aggies were thrilled with the outcome.
“I felt he didn’t really want to take that shot,” said Stokes, who scored 16 points and tallied a game-high 16 rebounds in the loss. “The entire game he wasn’t a threat at all. Anybody we wanted to take (the shot) would have been him, statistically speaking. I feel like he only took the shot because he had to.”
Tennessee (16-11, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) had erased an eight-point deficit with 3:20 remaining in regulation, but Stokes missed a free throw with less than a second remaining after tying the game on a dunk (and foul by Alex Caruso) that would have won the game for the Volunteers.
Earlier on that key possession, Tennessee’s Antonio Barton had sank a 3-pointer as time ran down that would’ve doomed the Aggies, but Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin had called a timeout just prior to Barton releasing the clutch shot.
“I wanted to get our guys a good look at the basket,” Martin explained of what turned out to be his ill-timed timeout.
While Space only finished with six points, Caruso and Jamal Jones each scored 14 points for the Aggies, including 10 in the second half by Caruso, who fouled out on Stokes’ final basket of regulation. Jordan McRae led Tennessee with 20.
The Volunteers led 27-24 at halftime, but a strong effort by A&M’s substitutes kept the Aggies afloat for Space’s heroics. A&M’s bench outscored Tennessee’s subs 21-2, and the Aggies also capitalized overall in points off turnovers (14-6) in earning the last-second victory.
Both teams, with their identical records, are clinging to postseason hopes. The Aggies visit LSU on Wednesday, while Tennessee plays at Mississippi State the same night.
“I would love to tell you we’ve arrived again, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to build on this and continue to grow.”
Added a subdued Martin, “That was a hard-fought game. We just came up short.”
The teams played past regulation in College Station for a second consecutive year, as the Volunteers prevailed 93-85 in four overtimes last February.