After letting a win against No. 1 Oklahoma get away, the LSU Tigers return to SEC play Tuesday at Auburn needing a strong closing kick to reach the NCAA tournament _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU head coach Johnny Jones coaches against Oklahoma, Saturday, January 30, 2016, at LSU's PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.

When the Southeastern Conference reached the exact halfway point of its men’s basketball season Thursday night, the two teams picked to finish third and fourth back in October are tied for the top spot.

No. 8 Texas A&M went on the road and dropped a 77-60 decision to Vanderbilt to allow LSU, which ripped Auburn 80-68 Tuesday night, to jump into a first-place tie with the Aggies.

Texas A&M and LSU are both 7-2, a game ahead of Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. Those three teams are 6-3 going into the start of the second half of the 18-game conference slate on Saturday.

During a media availability earlier Thursday, LSU coach Johnny Jones said he was pleased at being a half-game off the lead.

“We know how tough a conference it is,” he said. “We’re sitting here 7-2 right now, knowing the caliber of teams we had to play against — the No. 1 and No. 2 picked teams in the conference in the first two games. I’d say we’ve been playing pretty well.”

Kentucky was picked to win the regular-season title with Vanderbilt coming in second. LSU opened league play with a 90-82 victory at Vanderbilt, then clubbed Kentucky 85-67 three nights later in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Texas A&M was tabbed to finish third and LSU fourth in the preseason by a media panel.

Road woes

One of the reasons LSU and Texas A&M are sitting atop a jumbled-up league is their play on the road.

Despite A&M’s loss at Vanderbilt, the Tigers and Aggies are the only teams to win three times on the road in the first half of the conference schedule.

Both are 3-2 away from home and account for six of the 18 victories notched by road teams. Through the first 4½ weeks of league play, road teams are a woeful 18-45 for a winning percentage of just .286.

Just two other schools — Kentucky and South Carolina — have won twice away from home, and eight teams have one road win. Auburn and Missouri are both 0-4 on the road.

A year ago, SEC teams were a more-than-respectable 59-67 on the road (.468).

Quarterman good to go

Jones said Thursday night that guard Tim Quarterman, who left in the second half of the Auburn game with a right hip injury, will be ready for Saturday’s matchup with Mississippi State.

Quarterman went to the sideline with 14:10 to play after colliding with an Auburn player as they battled for a rebound. Quarterman said he tested the hip to try and get back on the court, but sat out the rest of the game as a precaution.

“It’s doing better with treatment … I should be ready Saturday,” Quarterman said. “When it happened, it just didn’t feel right. I got off the bench and tried to jog up and down the sideline, but it wasn’t feeling right.”

Before Thursday’s practice, Jones said he might hold Quarterman out of the workout if he was still experiencing soreness.

“We may hold him out and try to get him prepared for Saturday,” Jones said. “Conditioning won’t be a problem; I just don’t want to aggravate anything.”

Productive nights

According to the SEC Network, league players have produced five games of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists this season — and LSU has all five of them.

Forward Ben Simmons has posted three, while Quarterman has the other two.

Simmons reached those thresholds against Marquette (21-20-7), North Florida (43-14-7) and Tuesday night at Auburn (21-13-7). Quarterman did it against Houston (27-10-6) and Kentucky (21-10-7).

Jones goes online

LSU basketball last week launched a website called www.CoachJohnnyJones.net, which gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at various aspects of the Tigers’ program.

The site has sections that provide information on Jones, his coaching staff, team members and the team’s schedule.

A unique feature of the site is “LSU Live,” a hub that gives fans an up-to-the-minute feed from all LSU basketball social media accounts as well as videos and highlights from recent games.

Tickets going fast

LSU officials said Thursday that fewer than 600 specially-priced $5 tickets in the 300 level of the PMAC are still available for Saturday’s game.

The tickets were offered as part of “Fan Appreciation Day,” which will also feature giveaways for fans before and during the game.

Tickets can be purchased at the LSU Athletics Ticket office and online at LSUtix.net while supplies last.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.