With only six Southeastern Conference games remaining in the regular season, the LSU basketball team has to be focused only on the future and not the past.
So when LSU meets Texas A&M in College Station on Tuesday night, the Tigers will be thinking about what they need to do and not about what they didn’t do one month ago today in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“We talked about the impact that we need to make and have to make in the next seven games, now six games,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said of the message to his team before Saturday’s 73-55 shellacking of Tennessee. “We don’t need anybody else to do any work for us. We control our own destiny.”
Part of that includes not spending time dwelling on a 67-64 loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 17, a game in which LSU coughed up a 13-point second-half cushion and allowed the Aggies, then 1-2 in the league, to steal a win in the closing seconds.
As a result, the 8 p.m. Tuesday rematch for LSU (18-7, 7-5 SEC) against Texas A&M (17-7, 8-4) won’t be about revenge as much as what a win will do for the Tigers’ NCAA tournament résumé heading down the stretch.
That became the mantra for LSU after a disappointing two-point loss to No. 1 Kentucky one week ago, leaving the Tigers with seven conference games to make a run to the NCAA tournament.
While the start of that important seven-game stretch began with a promising 73-55 thrashing of Tennessee on the road, Jones said his team knows it has a lot of work to do.
“This next six-game stretch has to be about the growth of this team,” Jones said. “We need to be playing good basketball at this time of the year, and I thought they took a good positive step toward that at Tennessee.”
LSU was able to gain some momentum by sandwiching wins over Alabama and Tennessee around the Kentucky loss, as hard as it was to swallow, and Jones said the Tigers need to keep it.
“It’s about momentum … it’s about getting better,” he said. “We’ve got six conference games left, and you want to make sure that you position yourself and be at your best at this time of the year.”
The Tigers certainly did that at Tennessee, jumping to a big lead at the start and withstanding a second-half challenge from the Vols to take the win.
“That win was huge for us, and we were glad to get that one under our belt,” guard Jalyn Patterson said. “Coach told us (before the game) that we had to finish these seven games out strong, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Texas A&M, however, will present a different challenge than Tennessee did. Since that rocky start in league play, the Aggies have gone 7-2 and are tied for third in the standings with Ole Miss — just one game behind second-place Arkansas.
“Texas A&M is a really good basketball team,” Jones said. “They’ve done a tremendous job, and they’ve got a great record. We’ve got to make sure we go in there understanding that we had a setback to them at home. We have to play better throughout longer stretches, which created that setback for us.”
A&M has a potent 1-2 scoring punch in shooting guard Danuel House and guard/forward Jalen Jones, who each had 18 points in the upset of LSU in Baton Rouge, as well as point guard Alex Caruso, who leads the league in assists at 5.8 per game.
That trio helped A&M come back from an 11-point deficit with just under 10 minutes to play in the PMAC, and they secured the win when LSU committed three turnovers in the final 41.8 seconds.
Johnny Jones said the second game with Texas A&M has to be about the present.
“It has to be what we’ve taken from these last few games we’ve played,” he said. “It’s about getting better. We’ve got to make sure we channel our energy toward the things we need to do to play against and compete against a really good A&M team.”
Knowing how important the game is will be a key as well.
“It’s important we put everything in front of them; they have to know how important each game is and the consequences each game bears,” Jones said. “We have to continue to paint the big picture of what the end goal is. You talk about what you have to do to get to the postseason and having the ability to control your own destiny.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.