Failing to make good on another golden opportunity to boost its NCAA tournament résumé wasn’t really an option for the LSU men’s basketball team Saturday.
So when the Tigers reached the locker room at halftime down four points to No. 15 Texas A&M, after losing to South Carolina at midweek, they knew they had to do something fast.
“I mentioned last week how important this week was going to be, and we had that setback at South Carolina,” guard Keith Hornsby said. “That was certainly disappointing, and it only made this game more urgent for us. I think, especially in the second half, we played with that urgency.”
The Tigers did, piling up 43 points in the final 20 minutes against a Texas A&M team that was leading the Southeastern Conference in allowing just 65.3 points per game — taking the fight to the defensive end as well.
An 18-8 run gave LSU a three-point lead halfway through the second half and, with a raucous home crowd urging them on, the Tigers finished a 76-71 win over Texas A&M to retain a share of the SEC lead with six regular-season games left.
“We had a lot of momentum (in the second half), and we just kind of told each other that we weren’t going to let this one slip away,” Hornsby said. “We were in good position; we just needed to buckle down and get the (defensive) stops we needed and finish the game strong.”
The Tigers did, overcoming slim leads by the Aggies on three occasions in a 3½-minute stretch and pushing the lead to 10 points with a crucial 18-6 run to hand A&M its fifth consecutive SEC loss.
When it needed it the most, LSU wasn’t a one-man band in the second half — especially when 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward Craig Victor flexed his muscles and played with physicality on both ends of the floor.
Victor scored 14 of his 16 points in the period after playing just five minutes in the first half; Hornsby and fellow guard Tim Quarterman had nine points each; and Ben Simmons had six points, six rebounds and four assists.
Since their NCAA tournament résumé can’t take many more hits, beating a top-25 RPI team like Texas A&M came at just the right time.
“That was a great game because we dropped the last one,” Victor said. “(South Carolina) was a game we should’ve won, because we had the opportunity. But this was a good game for us, and I’m not just saying that for the résumé. It shows people that we’re growing as a team. We had a tough loss on the road, and to come back home and do what we did today, especially after losing to Texas A&M (in January), shows that this team can come and play.”
Despite the victory, which helped LSU remain in a tie with Kentucky for the league lead, the Tigers still have some work to do to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. On the official NCAA RPI updated Sunday, LSU moved up just six spots to No. 72.
But coach Johnny Jones and his players know there’s time to improve — if, of course, they play with the urgency they showed Saturday.
“We just have to keep playing,” said Jones, whose team will host streaking Alabama at 8 p.m. Wednesday. “If you can win games in this conference and finish near the top of the standings, some great things can be in store for you. You get excited about that.”
As far as Jones is concerned, all of the talk you hear at this time of the year — RPI, bracketology, being on or off the NCAA tournament bubble — means nothing.
“We just talk about winning,” he said when asked what he’s telling his team. “All that stuff is for naught if you don’t win. Really, if you win enough games, it kind of takes care of itself. You’ve just got to play and not focus on things on the perimeter.
“The things we can control are how hard we play and our attitude. Those are things we can control and, if we do that on enough nights, some good things will happen.”
Especially when they play with a sense of urgency.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.