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Texas A&M reaches SEC Championship following 87-75 win over Vanderbilt, Wade Taylor IV leads with 25 points

An unforgettable season needs its storybook ending, and Texas A&M (25-8, 15-3 SEC) will get the chance to put a bow on their miraculous turnaround come Sunday in the SEC Championship.

The Aggies officially punched their ticket back to the title game by besting Vanderbilt in the semifinals on Saturday. After a smothering defensive performance in the first 20 minutes, A&M put together a collective effort to fend off a Commodores rally and extend their season by one more day.

It was a flip of the script compared to last night’s matchup as the Aggies got off to a terrific start within the first five minutes. A&M jumped to an early 16-5 lead with Julius Marble enforcing his will in the paint and some sweet shooting by Tyrece Radford.

Radford had the hot hand early on, tallying 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Radford’s hot hand proved to be contagious for the rest of the Aggies roster as they combined for an absurd 71.4% shooting from the floor in the first period. After not being able to buy a bucket from deep last night, A&M responded with seven made threes from beyond the arc.

As beautiful as it was to see the offensive efficiency on display, defense is what helped spearhead the Aggies’ turnaround in SEC regular season play, and they flexed their strength once again on Saturday. With endless back-to-back defensive stops, the Commodores did not hit the double-digit scoring mark until 9:20 left in the first half.

A&M forced 11 turnovers from Vanderbilt in the first half, including an impressive three shot-clock violations. The Aggies returned the favor with 11 points scored off those takeaways.

Take this for data: the Aggies forced more turnovers (12) on Vanderbilt than the Commodores had made shots (10). That translates to a display of absolutely smothering defense by A&M.

Texas A&M leaders at the half: Tyrece Radford (11 points, 3 assists), and Julius Marble (10 points, 2 rebounds). Team: 71.4% from the field. 58.3% (7-12) from 3-point, 2-3 from the free throw line, and 15 rebounds.

Vanderbilt leaders at the half: Colin Smith (9 points, 3-4 three-pointers), and Ezra Manjon (4 points, 2-4 field goals). Team: 41.7% from the field. 33.3% (4-12) from 3-point, 1-3 from the free throw line, and 9 rebounds.

HALFTIME: Texas A&M: 49, Vanderbilt: 25

It was no secret that the Commodores had to come out with more intensity and pressure after that first-half performance, and they took it upon themselves to begin the second period. Vanderbilt came out the gate with an early 12-1 run to make things a bit more interesting with the Aggies.

Jordan Wright made his presence felt quickly at the start of the second half, tallying 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with five assists. Jerry Stackhouse communicated to his team that the goal was to cut the Commodores’ deficit to 10 points by the 10-minute mark of the second period.

To all the Aggies fans that were sweating it out down the stretch, Wade Taylor IV told everyone to “relax.” The SEC’s best point guard fended off the Commodore’s run with a sweet floater off the glass and an ensuing three-point shot one possession later to bring his scoring total to 17.

From there on out it was the Wade Taylor IV show as the sophomore guard helped fend off a fierce Commodores rally that came down to the final few minutes. Despite a late 8-0 run by Vanderbilt to cut the lead to 11, Dexter Dennis converted a big mid-range jumper to all but ensure a trip back to the SEC Championship.

After scoring just nine points in the first half, Taylor tallied 16 points in the second period to lead Texas A&M to an 87-75 win over Vanderbilt, setting up a rematch with the Crimson Tide for the conference title.

It’s officially Round 2 between the Aggies and the Crimson Tide on Sunday. Alabama may have a top-tier talent in Brandon Miller, but Texas A&M has the best point guard in the SEC in Wade Taylor IV who is playing as well as anyone in the country.

It’s the No. 1 seed versus the No. 2 seed with a chance for the Aggies to reclaim what slipped through their hands a year ago. Buckle up because you can’t write it any better than this.

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Story originally appeared on Aggies Wire