Texas A&M still in the hunt for SEC title

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Guard Andre Gordon and Texas A&M would be in position to play for a share of the SEC title on Saturday if Auburn could pull off an upset of Alabama on Wednesday night.

Guard Andre Gordon and Texas A&M would be in position to play for a share of the SEC title on Saturday if Auburn could pull off an upset of Alabama on Wednesday night.

Rogelio V. Solis, STF / Associated Press

Texas A&M did its part to set up a showdown for the Southeastern Conference title. Now the Aggies need the Auburn Tigers to do theirs.

A&M defeated Mississippi 69-61 on Tuesday night in The Pavilion in Oxford, Miss., before a sparse crowd and an interim opposing coach.

The scene will be quite different on Saturday morning in A&M’s Reed Arena, when the No. 24 Aggies host No. 2 Alabama. Should Auburn upset the Crimson Tide on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Aggies (22-8, 14-3) will try and force a tie for the SEC regular season title.

With a victory over Alabama in that situation (a Crimson Tide loss to Auburn) the Aggies also would own the league tiebreaker and the No. 1 seed of the SEC tournament next week in Nashville, Tenn. A&M also won its most league games since joining the SEC in the summer of 2012.

The Aggies’ best prior finish in SEC play was 13-5 with a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. A&M hasn’t won at least 14 league games since 1980 when the Aggies won the old Southwest Conference with a 14-2 record.

“The last time it happened was with coach (Shelby) Metcalf 43 years ago, so we’re very thankful,” A&M fourth-year coach Buzz Williams said. “And we’re grateful that we’re playing on CBS at 11 in the morning (on Saturday). I know Alabama plays really fast and has the best players (around) … we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Tuesday’s outcome was in doubt with less than two minutes remaining until A&M forward Andersson Garcia collected a steal and a slam dunk with 1:23 remaining to shove the Aggies to an insurmountable 65-59 lead. Meantime A&M guard Dexter Dennis did not play against the Rebels with a sprained left knee. His status against Alabama on Saturday is to be determined.

“Dex is our leading rebounder and, yes, we’ve got to make up his points (and) figure out his minutes,” Williams said on his postgame radio show late Tuesday night. “(And) we’ve got to figure out the (rebounds), because he does so much for us on both ends.”

The Aggies also welcomed back guard Manny Obaseki to the lineup after he had missed the previous 15 games with a broken pinkie finger. Obaseki finished with four points, a rebound and an assist in 11 minutes of play, and his minutes are certain to increase moving forward.

The Aggies are no doubt bound for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years and first time under Williams, after barely missing on the NCAA postseason a year ago. With Dennis out, A&M against the Rebels turned to a starting five of Henry Coleman III, Andre Gordon, Julius Marble, Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV for the first time.

For their part the Rebels (11-19, 3-14) are in search of a coach following the dismissal of Kermit Davis Jr. last week. Mississippi under acting coach Win Case closes out its regular season on Saturday at Missouri. The Aggies prevailed despite a season-high 26 points by guard Matthew Murrell, who made 8-of-11 of his 3-point attempts.

The Aggies were led by guard Radford’s 13 points, and A&M held an overwhelming advantage in points in the paint (36-14). The Aggies’ scant five turnovers, a season low, after collecting 51 in their three previous contests, pleased Williams heading into A&M’s most ballyhooed contest of the season. The Rebels finished with more than three times as many turnovers (18), which wound up a crucial difference in the suddenly tight outcome.

“Considering the last three games we’ve had a turnover problem, our guys responded to what we’ve been talking about in that regard,” Williams said. “In a game that the (Rebels) wanted to play in transition, I thought us controlling time, score and momentum was fantastic.”

Brent Zwerneman reported from College Station.