It wasn’t pretty, but LSU didn’t want it to be Wednesday night.
The Tigers, facing an early double-digit deficit, resorted to a full court press which produced a chaotic pace and often sloppy basketball. It also produced LSU’s first Southeastern Conference win, a 58-54 triumph over visiting Texas A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“Didn’t get off to a great start,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones after his first career SEC win. “We jumped in the press which created the tempo to our liking.”
The Aggies, a deliberate, methodical team, never settled in. The Tigers forced 24 Texas A&M turnovers, 19 of which came via the steal, the fourth most in school history.
Sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey roamed the floor and swiped the ball eight times, the most by a Tiger since Clarence Caesar in 1994.
“Hickey is the Honey Badger,” said sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant with a chuckle.
On a night when made buckets were at a premium, LSU had to create easy chances. Through two minutes and 19 seconds, LSU attempted only one field goal against three turnovers. That yielded the Aggies a 9-0 early advantage capped by senior guard Elston Turner’s three ball, spurring a Jones timeout.
But Turner, who scored 40 points in a stunning Aggie win at Kentucky, wouldn’t convert another field goal the rest of the evening, finishing with just five points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“A couple of things helped us with Turner, we extended the defense which put him away from the basket, and when they got in half court sets they didn’t have much time on the shot clock,” Jones said. “Malik Morgan and Charles Carmouche did a great job of shadowing him, and I thought the post guys did an excellent job of trying to trap the ball out of his hand.”
Still, the Tigers couldn’t seem to get any sort of rhythm going on the offensive end, and the Aggies stretched the lead to 19-5 on an Alex Caruso three with 12:34 left in the first half.
LSU continued to suffocate the Aggies the length of the floor, and eventually some shots started to fall.
Junior forward Shavon Coleman, who finished with 17 points coming off the bench, finished a lay in feed from Carmouche and then buried a triple off an Aggie turnover on the next possession to trim the lead to nine with 7:10 before intermission.
After Fabian Harris splashed three of his 19 to swell the lead to 11 with 3:56 to play before the half, the Tigers buckled down again and ripped off a 10-0 run to close the half. Hickey punctuated the surge with a high free throw line jumper that nestled through the net as the horn sounded.
The second half looked much like the first. Aggie turnovers. Missed shots. Relentless effort. No team led by more than four throughout the period.
The Aggies just couldn’t find a solution to the Tiger press.
“I’m really disappointed in how we gave them the ball and basically gave them the game,” said Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy.
Morgan nailed a wing three with 14:55 to play, and that gave the Tigers their first lead, 39-38. Coleman’s lay in stretched the lead to three as the Aggies endured a nearly six minute scoring drought that included five missed shots and three turnovers.
The teams swapped scores until Aggie forward Kourtney Roberson’s free throw gave Texas A&M a three point edge with 4:34 to play, and it looked like LSU was destined for another narrow defeat in SEC play.
But Hickey came up with a steal on the next possession and took it the length of the floor for a lay in and a foul, two of his 10 points. He would sink the free throw to knot the score with 3:59 to play.
Carmouche’s steal and finish gave the Tigers a narrow lead that was quickly erased by Turner’s two free throws. Back to back buckets by Coleman swung the momentum and score in the Tigers’ favor with a minute to play, and LSU made the plays down the stretch to put the game on ice.
Not the least of which were two crucial free throws by Andre Stringer to nudge the lead from two to four with 13 seconds left.
“We executed toward the end, even when Stringer stepped up there and knocked down those two free throws. Those were big,” Jones said. “It was somewhat of a pressure situation. You’re trying to close someone out. It takes us from two to four. We get a timeout call after we go up three, he goes back in and nails his next one putting us up four. We were able to get back defensively. So, I thought we did an excellent job of closing the game out and finishing. That’s not something we’ve done in the last few games. We haven’t been finish strong.”
The win potentially created an identity for the Tigers who seemed remarkably composed amid the frantic nature of the game. The Tigers only turned the ball over 11 times and fouled the Aggies 15.
Playing without the injured Corban Collins and Eddie Ludwig, and with Carmouche dealing with knee tendonitis, O’Bryant, Hickey, Coleman and Morgan all played in excess of 32 minutes.
“We want to just continue to push and not look back,” O’Bryant said. “We have been through so many tough games, and we weren’t able to pull them out. I think this one really sets the tone for us.”