Why ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi doesn't think he's 'a lunatic' for pegging LSU basketball as solid NCAA tournament team _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) calls out to his teammates as he stands with LSU forward Craig Victor II (32) in the second half, Saturday, February 13, 2016, at LSU's PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.

Less than 72 hours after a dreadful night at the free-throw line in a loss at South Carolina, the LSU men’s basketball team redeemed itself in Saturday’s crucial victory over Texas A&M.

On Wednesday night, LSU was just 5-of-14 in the first half and 16-of-28 from the charity stripe for the game in a 94-83 loss that knocked the Tigers out of sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference.

It was a different story Saturday. After hitting just 57.1 percent against South Carolina, LSU went 23-of-29 for 79.3 percent — including 16-of-19 in the second half — in a 76-71 win over A&M.

LSU went into the game shooting 66.0 percent from the line, which put it 293rd out of 346 Division I teams.

Ben Simmons and Craig Victor each were 8-of-9 against A&M, and Keith Hornsby (3-of-4) and Tim Quarterman (4-of-6) were solid, too.

“It was really good for us,” coach Johnny Jones said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot them great the other night. We felt like that cost us from probably having a chance late on the road to win. Our guys stepped up and made some huge free throws today. Even there in crunch time down the stretch, we made some big free throws.”

The 40-minute man

Simmons didn’t get a rest Saturday, going the full 40 minutes in a physical tussle with A&M.

It was the fourth time Simmons has played at least 40 minutes. He also did it against Marquette, N.C. State and College of Charleston early in the season.

Simmons wasn’t any worse for the wear. He had 16 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block — and committed no turnovers.

“I hate coming off the floor,” Simmons said, “even if I have four fouls.”

“He played all 40?” Jones jokingly asked. “Dang, I tried to call timeout or something. But the (official) timeouts fell right for us. The way the game was played and the pace of play, we found opportunities to rest him out there.”

Jones misses start

Forward Jalen Jones, who leads Texas A&M at 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, didn’t start because of an internal problem, coach Billy Kennedy said.

Kennedy said Jones, who entered the game with 14:50 left in the first half and wound up with 12 points and just one rebound in 27 minutes, also hurt his hip in practice. Jones started each of 11 of A&M’s SEC games before Saturday.

Also, starting guard Anthony Collins was dealing with a stomach virus and played five minutes — all in the first half. He didn’t score and had one assist.

Special guests

With the NBA All-Star Game this weekend, several former LSU players took the opportunity to return to the PMAC for Saturday’s game.

Washington Wizards guard Garrett Temple, Memphis Grizzlies forward Jarell Martin and Houston Rockets guard Marcus Thornton drew loud ovations from the crowd of 12,928 when introduced by P.A. announcer Dan Borne and shown on the video boards above midcourt.

Tying the series

With its win Saturday, LSU gained a measure of revenge against Texas A&M after the Aggies swept both games last season and also won 71-57 on Jan. 19 in College Station.

The teams are now tied 4-4 in the series since Texas A&M joined the SEC for the 2012-13 school year. Overall, LSU leads 18-15, with a 13-2 record in Baton Rouge.

Getting to 300

Kennedy, a Metairie native and Holy Cross graduate, notched his 300th win as a college coach against Iowa State on Jan. 30.

Kennedy is 300-247 in 18 seasons at Centenary, Southeastern, Murray State and Texas A&M. He’s 4-6 against LSU, going 4-4 at A&M and 0-1 at both Centenary and SLU.

Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.