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NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Longtime 12th Man Foundation donors Bill and Robbie Moore are no strangers to A&M athletic events. Devout followers of all things maroon and white, rarely a week goes by where the Moores aren't in the stands supporting an Aggie team.
One thing the two have never traveled for, however, is postseason basketball. That changed this year when the couple decided last month to make the trip to Nashville for the SEC Tournament.
Like many postseason first-timers, the Moores quickly learned that there is nothing quite like the first stage of March Madness. The couple led the celebration in the stands as the Aggies capped a 72-66 victory over Florida in the quarterfinals.
"We're having a great time," said Bill. "We have never traveled to any postseason basketball games before, but Robbie said we should give it a try. I'm glad we did."
Aggie football fans already descended on Nashville on two occasions in the last few months, and a small but loud basketball contingent made the trip again this week to see in person if A&M can claim its first conference tournament championship in nearly 30 years.
So far, Aggies have been treated to quite an experience.
Fans from across the conference descend on the SEC Tournament every year, creating a unique melting pot in both Bridgestone Arena and the many honkytonks and bars that line downtown's Broadway district.
Not surprisingly, Kentucky fans may outnumber the rest, as the Wildcats travel for basketball game just like A&M or Alabama travels for football.
"You can tell they love good basketball, whether it's Wednesday night or in the finals," Bill said. "At the end of the (Ole Miss-Alabama) game Thursday, when (Ole Miss star) Stefan Moody fouled out at the end, the whole arena gave him a standing ovation because they appreciate good basketball and the type of career he had."
There was a lot for Aggie fans to applaud about at the end of Friday's game. A&M pounded Florida in the paint, amassing 44 points from close range in a game that was not decided until the final seconds. Freshman Admon Gilder and senior Alex Caruso both connected on two free throws in the final 25 seconds to cement the win.
Make no mistake about it: this was a good victory for A&M. Coach Billy Kennedy admitted afterwards that it wasn't the prettiest game, but it was a quality victory over a team desperate to earn a slot in the NCAA Tournament.
Just like the Jan. 12 game between the two teams in College Station, the Gators wouldn't go away. The Aggies seemed to take control with eight minutes remaining when a Gilder basket gave A&M a 59-53 lead. But Florida responded with an 8-2 run to tie the game with 2:24 remaining.
Moments later, a Caruso layup off of a steal and a big 3-pointer by Danuel House again gave A&M a six-point cushion with 59 seconds remaining. Florida's Devin Robinson and Kasey Hill quickly closed the gap to two with 30 seconds remaining before Gilder and Caruso put the game away with free throws.
The win was A&M's first in the SEC Tournament since 2013.
"We haven't had a lot of experience in the SEC Tournament with our young or older guys," Kennedy said. "The first game in any tournament is the hardest game to win. You usually have to get past an ugly first round game. Very few teams come out and just light it up. Hopefully we got the ugliness out of our system."
The final buzzer led to a large sigh of relief from Aggie fans in the arena, including Sam Torn. A longtime basketball season ticket holder who recently served as a chair for the Kyle Field Redevelopment Committee, Torn is a mainstay at A&M's postseason basketball appearances.
"There's nothing like the one-and-done mentality of the postseason where there is pressure on every possession," said Torn, who began traveling for postseason play during the Shelby Metcalf era. "The conference tournament is an experience unto itself, but if you've never been able to travel to the NCAA Tournament, it's a whole different atmosphere. I would highly encourage Aggies to do it."
A&M will certainly be in the NCAA Tournament field when the pairings are announced Sunday evening. Possible destinations range from nearby Oklahoma City to faraway locations like Spokane, Providence and Brooklyn, and the experience is one that rarely disappoints.
At least one Aggie couple is already hooked on postseason play.
"Right now I am holding hotel rooms in five different cities for next week," Bill Moore said. "We'll be there."
To those who support student-athletes by giving, I want to say thanks and gig 'em.
Without them, many young people who aren't financially stable or can't provide an education for themselves have a great opportunity. It makes A&M a better place."