Trailing by just six at the half, WSU (22-15) was outscored by 10 in the second half as Texas A&M (27-12) dominated offensively in the paint and suffocated the Cougars on the other end.
With two top 32 defensive teams — according to Kenpom — going at it in Madison Square Garden, offense was hard to come by early on. Texas A&M threw double-teams and all kinds of defensive pressure around the perimeter, causing WSU to score just seven points in the first seven minutes and create a flurry of takeaways for the Aggies.
Despite their offensive struggles, WSU played just as well as the Aggies on the defensive end, limiting the Aggies inside and only giving them seven points of their own in the first seven minutes. Noah Williams gave WSU their first lead of the game with a three in the corner and T.J. Bamba, in his return to his hometown, threw down a powerful dunk to give WSU a 12-10 lead with 10:37 to go in the first half.
In the back 10 minutes of the first half, the Aggies began to get what they wanted inside, rattling off a 22-9 run, dominating offensively in the paint with 26 of their 32 first-half points coming in the blue Madison Square Garden paint. The dominance inside pushed the Aggies lead to 11. A pair of Tyrell Roberts threes during the Aggie run kept the game within reach as WSU closed the deficit to six before the halftime buzzer.
If the Cougars were going to rally and push themselves into the championship game on Thursday, they needed to cut the turnovers and prevent the Aggies from scoring inside. The Cougars had 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play and had no answer for the Aggies paint attack.
The halftime adjustments proved to be futile.
The Aggies continued to have their way inside, pushing the lead to 15 within the first five minutes of the second half, aided by 14-7 run with 10 of the Aggies 14 points coming in the paint. Texas A&M’s dominance in the paint continued to haunt the WSU’ frontcourt as the Aggies all but put the game out of reach before the nine-minute mark with a 27-point lead. Despite scoring nearly 20 points per game in the NIT thus far, the Aggie defense locked down Michael Flowers, holding the Cougars’ leading scorer to just five points, all of which came in the first half. The Cougars never found any sort of rhythm offensively, resulting in the Aggies cruising to a 16-point victory.
Texas A&M, despite WSU’s talented defensive frontcourt, ended up scoring more points in the paint than WSU scored in total, 58-56.
Despite the disappointing end and the multiple heartbreaking losses this team suffered all season, all in all, the 2021-22 season has been a massive step forward for this program. The 22 total wins are the most since 2011. This was a program that had been living in or near the Pac-12 basement for nearly a decade and they ended their season in Madison Square Garden playing for a chance to get to where no WSU team had ever gotten to before.
A massive thank you to this team for an incredible run to New York and helping progress this program forward. The program is in great hands and is primed to continue to make another leap forward.
Folks, this won’t be the last you hear from this WSU basketball program. They will be back.
As always, Go Cougs.