By the end of the previous meeting between the LSU and Texas A&M men’s basketball teams just 25 days ago, the Tigers and Aggies were headed in different directions.
Playing in front of a record crowd at College Station’s Reed Arena on Jan. 19, A&M ripped LSU 71-57, looking very much like a team ready to dominate the Southeastern Conference.
Why not? With a senior-laden team and six wins to start league play, you had to wonder who was going to take down Billy Kennedy’s team, which four nights later improved to 7-0 when it blasted Missouri.
Amazingly, the answer has come in four consecutive SEC losses to Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama — three of them away from home — with another road test coming Saturday at noon against LSU in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The losing streak in league play for No. 15 Texas A&M (18-6, 7-4) was interrupted only by a victory against then-No. 14 Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 30.
A&M’s latest loss came at Alabama on Wednesday when guard Anthony Collins, who had missed two free throws all season, couldn’t get two to fall with 2.3 seconds left as the Aggies fell 63-62.
Even so, LSU (15-9, 8-3) knows what it’ll be up against when it tries to retain at least a share of first place in the league. After all, the Tigers saw the Aggies at their best less than a month ago.
“To me, that only makes me think they’re going to come in here with a fire under them,” LSU guard Keith Hornsby said of A&M’s four-game SEC losing streak. “We’re pretty sure they’ll really be focused on turning things around.”
LSU should be focused, too, after relinquishing sole possession of the SEC lead with a 94-83 loss at South Carolina on Wednesday when the Gamecocks outscored the Tigers 12-5 in the final 85 seconds.
The setback dropped the Tigers into a tie for the top spot with Carolina and Kentucky at 8-3, with Texas A&M and Florida a game back at 7-4.
So with only seven regular-season games left, LSU and Texas A&M both want to get back on track.
“They’re desperate for a win with three losses in a row,” LSU forward Craig Victor said. “But they’re not just going to come in and lay down. That’s not going to happen ... and we’re not expecting it to happen.
“We have to go out and compete, play hard and value the ball. That was the key to the last time we played; we pretty much shot ourselves in the foot.”
In their first game, LSU committed 19 turnovers and, after tying the score at 44 with 15:44 left, was 4-of-21 from the field the rest of the way. It was LSU’s fourth loss in five meetings with Texas A&M.
LSU was 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) from the field in the second half and finished the game shooting 37.3 percent. Texas A&M’s game plan called for the defense to pack things in down low and disrupt the flow of the ball to the Tigers’ bigs — Ben Simmons and Victor.
A&M certainly can clog things up with four starters standing between 6-foot-5 and 6-10, including All-SEC candidates Jalen Jones and Danuel House.
While they do a lot of damage on offense with Jones averaging 16.3 points and House getting 15.6, they’ve also helped an Aggies team that leads the league in scoring defense at 65.3 points.
In its three-game winning streak over LSU, which this season leads the SEC in scoring at 81.3 points per game, A&M allowed 64, 62 and 57 points.
“They’re a tremendous defensive team,” Hornsby said. “They’ve been among the toughest defensive teams, as a unit, that I’ve had to go against since I’ve been here.”
When LSU’s guards hit just 13 of 34 field-goal attempts in that first meeting this season, it made it easy for A&M to work on Simmons and Victor inside.
“We just have to make plays for each other and try to put the ball in the hole,” said LSU guard Tim Quarterman, who was 5-of-10 in that game. “Some nights you’re not going to make every shot. The key is you have to have good offensive flow and get people open and let them pick their spots.”
A&M also got defensive last season in sweeping LSU, winning 67-64 in Baton Rouge and 68-62 in College Station.
“We’ve unfortunately missed shots,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “At times, we’ve had some great opportunities, and shots hadn’t gone down for us. We’ve gone through areas where we had foul trouble.
“You have to give A&M credit; they’ve done a great job making plays and making shots down the stretch. We just haven’t been as effective in some of the opportunities that have been there for us.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.