COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For the second time in a month, the LSU basketball team had Texas A&M squarely on the ropes midway through the second half Tuesday night.
For the second time in a month, the Tigers let the Aggies back in it.
Texas A&M took full advantage of the opportunity again, outscoring LSU 26-12 over the game’s final 11:48 to claim a 68-62 Southeastern Conference victory in Reed Arena and sweep the two-game season series.
On Jan. 17, LSU held a 13-point lead over Texas A&M early in the second half and still led by 11 points with less than 10 minutes remaining before the Aggies came all the way back to stun the Tigers 67-64 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (18-8, 7-6 SEC) again seemed to have things in hand Tuesday night when the Tigers stretched a five-point halftime lead to 50-42 with 12:04 to play. But it all went wrong from there and Texas A&M (18-7, 9-4 SEC) executed on both ends down the stretch — especially in the final 2½ minutes.
“We just didn’t make enough tough plays down the stretch,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Just executing isn’t enough. You have to get to the basket and get the foul.”
LSU tied the game at 61 with 2:32 to play on a pair of Jarell Martin free throws, but the Tigers scored just one more point the rest of the way and lost a game and an opportunity to enhance its NCAA tournament resume.
The big blow for Texas A&M was a three-point play by forward Kourtney Roberson with 1:53 remaining. Roberson muscled his way inside for a basket and was fouled on his way to the rim by Keith Hornsby.
Roberson’s free throw gave the Aggies the lead for good at 64-61 before Martin, who led LSU with 13 points, made one of two free throws with 1:20 remaining to trim the deficit to two.
On the ensuing trip down the floor, Martin took a charge from Texas A&M point guard Alex Caruso with 53.9 seconds left to give his team another shot.
But LSU’s attempt to tie the game failed to find the mark when guard Jalyn Patterson, who had 10 points, missed a floater in the lane with 32 seconds to play.
“I got open in the lane and just missed a floater,” Patterson said. “I just missed it … came up short. I’m supposed to step up for my team and I missed the shot.”
All told, the Tigers missed all four of their field-goal attempts in the final 80 seconds.
But that was the story of the final 12 minutes of the game.
With a nice lead in hand in the first part of the second half, LSU went ice cold from the field after extending a 36-31 halftime lead to eight points.
Undaunted by a slow start against the Aggies’ 2-3 zone, when they had turnovers on their first two possessions and went on to make just four of their first 12 field-goal attempts in falling behind 21-10, the Tigers buried 15 of their next 24 shots.
But after a 3-point basket by Patterson and a free throw by Brian Bridgewater, who scored nine points off the bench, LSU’s shooting slumped.
While the Aggies made a nice 12-0 run en route to finishing the game 8-of-14 from the floor, the Tigers were just 4-of-18 over that same decisive stretch.
“They made the plays down the stretch that really counted,” Hornsby said after scoring 11 points — all in the first half. “When a team like that gains a lot of momentum, they’re dangerous, and it’s about how we respond to it.”
LSU’s four-guard rotation of Patterson, Hornsby, Tim Quarterman and Josh Gray were a combined 3-of-17 from the field in the second half, when the Tigers shot just 33.3 percent, after they were 9-of-18 in the first half.
To make matters worse, Martin and Jordan Mickey were held to 19 points by a physical A&M front line — with Martin getting 13 of those despite getting in foul trouble when the Aggies made their big move.
Mickey and Martin went into the game averaging a combined 33.0 points per outing. Martin had six rebounds and Mickey had only four, nearly seven below his average of 10.8, as A&M outrebounded LSU 38-31.
That was just a start for Texas A&M, which had 18 second-chance points to LSU’s five. The Aggies also scored 36 points in the paint to just 22 for the Tigers.
Danuel House, a 6-foot-7 guard, scored a game-high 20 points for A&M, while Roberson, a rugged 6-9 forward, had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Jalen Jones contributed 10 points.
That trio helped negate the presence of Martin and Mickey down low — which was a key when LSU made just 2 of 10 3-point shots in the second half after going 6 of 14 in the first half.
“We had looks,” Jones said. “But we preferred to go inside and give our big guys a chance. We just didn’t get enough points in the paint.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.