Anyone who has seen Texas standout Kevin Durant play this year knows of his immense capabilities.
Despite being only a freshman, Durant is the leading candidate for national player of the year in college basketball. Yet he isn’t even a sure thing to win player of the year in his own conference.
That’s because of the season Texas A&M guard Acie Law has had. In Wednesday’s double-overtime loss against Texas, Law’s performance narrowed the gap between he and Durant, starting a debate that maybe the two should share the award for player of the year in the Big 12 Conference.
Saturday against Missouri, in the Aggies’ 94-78 win, Law proved how valuable he is to Texas A&M, the Big 12’s second-place team.
With Law playing the final home game of his college career, the Aggies (25-5, 13-3 Big 12) were leading throughout the opening minutes against Missouri until forward Vaidotas Volkus stepped into the lane and took a charging foul on Law. The foul was Law’s second of the game, forcing him to sit out the rest of the first half.
With Law on the bench, the Tigers (18-11, 7-9) took advantage, eventually getting their first lead of the game on a pair of free throws by Marshall Brown.
“When Law was out of the game, you could tell he wasn’t in there,” Brown said. “In the first half, he didn’t play too much because of his fouls. That’s when we went on our run.”
Despite the loss, Missouri remained in sixth-place in the Big 12 heading into the conference tournament because of losses from Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. The Tigers will play 11th-seeded Baylor Thursday in the first round at 8:20 p.m. in Oklahoma City.
If Missouri wins, it would then play third-seeded Texas Friday night.
Throughout the first half, the Tigers constantly took the ball to the basket, leading to layups and close-range shots. That offensive style led to 42 first-half points against the conference’s top-ranked scoring defense.
In the second half, however, the attacking style that was evident in the first half fell flat. The Tigers were whistled for three charging fouls early in the half. And after those calls, one of which led to coach Mike Anderson getting a technical foul, Missouri played much more tentatively.
The Aggies also began to play more help defense in an attempt to take away driving lanes. On one play, Brown took two dribbles inside the 3-point line and it looked as if he would drive to the basket for an open layup. Instead, two Texas A&M players stepped into the lane and Brown cautiously stopped his dribble, being careful not to make contact with the Aggie defenders, before passing the ball back out beyond the 3-point line.
“Anytime you penetrated in the second half, they had four guys in the lane,” Brown said. “They really shut down our driving game. They’re good at help defense. And then we settled for too many jump shots in the second half.”
What also helped Texas A&M was that Law played significant minutes in the second half. Law scored 13 of his 20 points in his final half at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
“In the second half, he just really took over the game,” Brown said. “He was a huge factor. He was the difference in the game for them.”
Missouri has now played against both Durant and Law, essentially the only two candidates for the player of the year award in the Big 12. As for the debate of which player deserves the honor more, Brown said it could go either way.
“Durant’s the most talented player in our league by far,” Brown said. “But Acie Law is a much better floor leader. When Law is in the game, you can just feel his presence.”
HORTON GETS START: For the first time this season, point guard Stefhon Hannah did not start the game. He was replaced in the lineup by Jason Horton. Hannah came in for Horton less than three minutes into the game and eventually played 25 minutes.