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NCAAs in Memphis: No. 1 seed Houston Beats No. 9 seed Texas A&M in March Classic

Houston guard Emmanuel Sharp celebrates a made three as Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams looks on.
Houston guard Emmanuel Sharp celebrates a made three as Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams looks on.

The Houston Cougars outlasted the Texas A&M Aggies in the final NCAA tournament game in Memphis to earn a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Houston, the No. 1 seed in the south region, blew out No. 16 seed Longwood in their first round game, outscoring the Lancers 86-46. The Cougars entered the second round 31-4, as they comfortably won the Big 12 regular season title in their first season in the conference.

Texas A&M, the No. 9 seed, had arguably a more impressive first round performance. In front of a very pro-Nebraska crowd, the Aggies scored at will, blowing out the No. 8 seed Cornhuskers 98-83.

In December, these two teams met in a neutral site, non-conference battle where Houston prevailed 70-66. The Cougars led by 15 at halftime, before Texas A&M made it a ball game down the stretch.

This was a chippy one from the start and it became clear quickly that this game was going to be decided from the free throw line: specifically, A&M’s abilities at the line. By the ten minute mark the Cougars were already in the bonus and the Aggies were shooting on the line. 

The Aggies could not buy a shot from the free throw line. Texas A&M took 22 attempts from the charity stripe and converted just 11 of them in the first half. Meanwhile the Aggies were ice cold from the field, especially their star Wade Taylor IV. On the other end Jamal Shead and Emmanuel Sharp were killing them; both in double figures at the half. Yet somehow it was a 43-38 game after one half as the Cougars couldn’t get anything going outside of those two. 

Then came the second half. The referees swallowed their whistle and let some contact by Houston go uncalled. L.J Cryer started getting going for the Cougars. Taylor IV and the rest of the Aggies continue to struggle getting clean looks, and slowly Houston built a nine point lead with 14:43 left in the game.  

A&M kept fighting but could never quite put a run together and with two minutes remaining it was 81-69 Houston with fans already hitting the exits. Suddenly the bounces went the Aggies way and the Cougars struggled from the line. Texas A&M got second chance buckets from Solomon Washington and Wade Taylor IV while Houston went 2-4 from the line. A bad turnover and a Taylor IV three cut it to a five point game with 1:13 left. 

Then came the fouls again, as LJ Cryer would get fouled on a layup and a controversial foul on LJ Cryer gave Wade Taylor IV three shots from the line. Emmanuel Sharp would get fouled immediately but only convert one of two shots while Solomon Washington got a crucial put back to cut the lead to three. After Washington blocked a jumper on the other end, the Aggies were down three with thirty seconds left. 

What occurred next was every coach's nightmare in a late game situation, hero ball. After a timeout gave A&M the ball at half-court with ten seconds, Wade Taylor heaved a three from the logo that was off and then chucked a three off of the ricochet rebound with two seconds on the clock. However, the Aggies were able to force a controversial jump ball that gave them one last shot with 1.2 seconds on the game clock. 

Then, March magic occurred. While the Houston defense swarmed Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford found Anderson Garcia on a bounce past behind the arc, and Garcia hoisted up a miraculous three that connected to send the game to overtime. The Aggie bench and fans went wild while the Cougars were left in disbelief. 

Heading into overtime the Aggies had all the momentum while the Cougars starters were in serious foul trouble. Yet the tone was set early in overtime by the Cougars. Emmanuel Sharp hit a quick three to open the scoring up, and then J’Wan Roberts drove into the media section for a loose ball. Even as Sharp fouled out of the game, the Cougars had Texas A&M playing on its heels. Houston was up six with 2:27 left on the clock.  

Yet the Aggies came storming back, making more clutch shots to bring it to a three-point game with 18 seconds left. A&M trapped and sent walk on Ryan Elvin, a man who had taken four career free throws, to the charity stripe. After going long on the first shot, he drained the second one to make it a two possession lead. A rushed three pointer by A&M sealed the deal, allowing the Cougars to win 100-95 in overtime. Kelvin Sampson was very appreciative of Elvin’s contributions, not just for his shot but what he brings to the program

“Ryan is kind of a behind-the-scenes link. I'm so glad you guys are asking a question about him because I could bring him up and it wouldn't mean anything," said Sampson. "But when he stepped up there and missed the first one, I said, okay, he got that one out of the way because he never misses. Then the second one, he just drained.” 

This was an emotional and physical win for the Cougars, who needed to handle multiple Aggie runs and foul trouble all night. J’Wan Roberts post game talked about preparing to play in a game like this.

"(It) starts with conditioning, every morning (at) 5:45, running sprints everything is timed, Coach does a good job in making us uncomfortable," said Roberts.

It was a very uncomfortable game for Houston with four Cougars in foul trouble but they found a way to pull out the victory. 

With this win the Cougars move on to their fifth straight sweet sixteen where they’ll play the Duke Blue Devils in Dallas on Friday. Meanwhile for the Aggies, a heartbreaking loss ends their quest for their first ever trip to the Elite Eight. But with much of this years core returning to the squad next season, expectations will be sky high for Texas A&M in 2025.  

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