It didn’t take long — 28 seconds, to be exact — for the LSU basketball team to let Texas A&M know how it was going to be Tuesday night.
When 6-foot-10 forward Robert Williams, a preseason first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick, tried to muscle in for a short-range jumper on Texas A&M’s first look at the basket, Aaron Epps rose up and went face-to-face with Williams, slapping the shot away.
While it was merely one blocked shot at the time, it was a hint of things to come.
That rejection turned into a steal by Skylar Mays off Williams four seconds later, which turned into a solid first five minutes on the defensive end for LSU in its 77-65 beating of Texas A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It completed a surprising season sweep for the Tigers over the Aggies, who were stunned in College Station, Texas, on Jan. 6 when Tremont Waters worked his magic with two devastating 3-pointers in the final 12.4 seconds for a 69-68 victory.
That one, some thought, was a fluke considering A&M played without three starters — including Williams, who was sidelined by illness.
It certainly would be different in the rematch with Williams and guards Duane Wilson and Admon Gilder back in the lineup, right?
Actually, it was worse, right from the start.
After three consecutive losses in Southeastern Conference play, the LSU basketball team didn’t have the easiest of tasks Tuesday night.
When Texas A&M sputtered with eight empty possessions to start the game — a nearly five-minute stretch that saw the Aggies miss their first four shots and commit five turnovers — it was already a long night.
While LSU struggled as well, making just two of its first 12 field-goal attempts, defense kept the Tigers in it until their offense got on track in both the first and second half.
It was huge for first-year coach Will Wade, who watched his team get off to slow starts in an eventual six-point loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. LSU was outscored 10-2 in the first five minutes of the first half and 12-2 in the first three-plus minutes of the second.
“The starts to both halves were quite a bit better than they have been,” Wade said after Tuesday night’s win.
From that 16.7 percent start from the floor, LSU went on to hit just better than 50 percent in going 26 of 51 the rest of the way. Going 8 of 18 from beyond the 3-point arc was huge as well.
To be fair, much of that offense was created from their solid play on defense, which held A&M to 39.4 percent shooting from the field.
The Tigers also forced the Aggies into a season-high 20 turnovers — with 18 coming in the first 30 minutes when LSU built a huge 16-point lead.
The Tigers also came up with 13 steals, their most since conference play started, and turned the Aggies’ miscues into 28 points.
Will Wade is fond of saying there’s a code to every lock.
“It helped us,” Wade said. “We certainly didn’t want to play against their set defense. They’re really good defensively. They held Mizzou to 49 points the other day, and Missouri was lucky to score 49.
“Our guys did a good job creating offense from our defense.”
It’s a good thing they did because Texas A&M dominated LSU on the glass and won the rebounding battle 50-30. Nineteen rebounds came on the offensive end, 14 of them in the second half which they turned into nine putback baskets.
Despite an inauspicious start, Williams and 6-10 center Tyler Davis combined for 33 points and 27 rebounds — with 23 and 13 in the second half — in trying to get the Aggies back in it.
But LSU weathered the storm with Duop Reath scoring nine of his 21 points and Waters getting nine of his 15 in the second half, while Daryl Edwards had six with some important free throws down the stretch after he and Brandon Sampson buried two 3-point baskets each in the first half.
But it was hardly in doubt even though A&M got within 10 points six times in the final 8:06, giving LSU its first SEC home win after three gut-wrenching losses.
“(The win) is good, you just think about all the other ones you let slip away,” Wade said. “I mean, if we would have played with this edge ... I don’t even want to think about it. It makes me sick.
“I’m happy to win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to win.”