From Media Row: Aggies finding new life from 3-point range in win over SFA

COLLEGE STATION — Gary Blair knows he might’ve escaped one.

Following his Aggies’ 82-75 win over Stephen F. Austin (3-1), the veteran head coach sounded more like someone who found lessons to take back to the practice floor as opposed to someone who’d just won a high-profile non-conference game.

“I'm wondering about ourselves,” Blair said. “We just came off of a big win, you’ll see this in a lot of sports. Once you start patting yourself on the back after a big win in football, soccer, volleyball or whatever, you take things for granted.”

A&M (4-0) closed the game shooting just 28.6 percent from the floor to the Ladyjacks’ 53.8. The press initiated by SFA guards Angel Scott and Tasharian Robinson toward the end of the third and fourth period resulted in 14 turnovers in the second half. And this was after A&M had built a 20-point lead and seemingly put the game away in the third period.

“We knew they would pick up the pressure and we just didn't pick it up like how we were supposed to,” A&M guard Kayla Wells said. “I didn't take care of the ball like I was supposed to.”

Wells finished with a game-high 24 points but six turnovers, something she pointed to herself. Against a team like SFA, who hadn’t lost a regular season game since December 2020, Blair knew that allowing 27 points off turnovers normally wouldn't have cut it. Luckily A&M was fortuitous in other areas of the game and it didn’t come back to bite them.

For most of the night, the Aggies found solace in the midst of a physical game at the charity stripe shooting 86 percent off 30 attempts. On the other end, SFA’s early foul trouble put Avery Brittingham and Aiyana Johnson on the bench for much of the first half. That stifled a normally efficient Ladyjack offense to just 26.7 percent shooting in the first period without their go-to post players.

“Thank heavens, that, we did well tonight,” Blair said about his team’s free throw shooting. “But 27 points off our turnovers, we were not making the passes. We were letting traps bother us.

“(Kellogg) had a good game plan. He took us out of half-court offense even in the first half. Because we were scrambling making some threes and thinking, ‘Well, they're going to break down.’ They don't break down.”

But there's another positive A&M can look to that's been looking more like a trend of late. For a team that relied so much on interior dominance last season, the Aggies faced a challenge heading into the new year with its unsung backcourt being the crux of this year’s roster. A&M only hit eight or more 3-pointers three times last season and have already beaten that mark four games into the new year after shooting 8-of-15 against a team that held opponents to 22.7 percent from before Thursday night.

“We have a lot of shooters on this team this year,” Qadashah Hoppie said. “And so, we're able to find each other and being that now we have some shooters on the floor at once, it's hard for teams to help off. So when they do help off, we're able to find open man and we know that they can knock it down.”

Hoppie, who missed most of last year at St. John’s due to injury, had 16 points off four 3-pointers. The player who Blair described as “instant energy” has scored double figures in all but one game so far this year off the bench. Blair was extremely complimentary of SFA’s gameplan and pressing and mentioned the Aggies’ upcoming Paradise Jam showcase when talking about how poorly he felt the team handled the trap situations.

“I don't know of anybody can put pressure on us as well as what they did, but I sure as heck will try until we started doing a better job,” Blair said.

SFA's Stephanie Visscher finished with a team-high 18 points with Brittingham scoring 17 behind her. Visscher also added four steals.

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