With their team in a tight battle with No. 15 Texas A&M midway through the second half Saturday afternoon, Craig Victor and Keith Hornsby combined to pick up the LSU men at just the right time.
Victor’s physical play on both ends of the floor kept LSU in the game, and Hornsby provided a huge motivational lift with a hustle play that epitomized the Tigers’ efforts in a crucial 76-71 Southeastern Conference win over A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Needing something to happen after an 11-point loss three nights earlier at South Carolina and facing a seven-point deficit a minute into the second half Saturday, Victor and Hornsby came up with the plays that helped LSU record a résumé-building victory.
The win helped LSU (16-9, 9-3) retain a share of the league lead with Kentucky, which earlier Saturday pummeled South Carolina, while Texas A&M (18-7, 7-5) dropped its fifth consecutive game in conference play.
While Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney helped keep LSU from falling farther behind, it was Victor and Hornsby who charged up the team and the crowd of 12,928.
Victor worked tirelessly inside to draw fouls and knocked down 7 of 8 shots from the free-throw line in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Hornsby and Simmons each hit a pair of field goals before a critical 30-second stretch that turned the game.
Victor made a pair of free throws, and Hornsby stole the ball from DJ Hogg on A&M’s ensuing possession, which led to a basket by Victor that gave LSU a 53-50 lead with 10:21 to play.
After knocking the ball away from Hogg, Hornsby dived to the floor while being sandwiched by Hogg and Admon Gilder, and LSU gained possession under its own basket.
Hornsby wound up with a baseball-sized floor burn on the back of his right shoulder — and Victor wound up with a basket that sparked the win, even though A&M briefly regained the lead a couple of minutes later.
“I saw (the ball), and (Hogg) wasn’t really running for it, so I decided I might as well go for it,” Hornsby said. “I knew it was a long shot to get to it, but I said, ‘Why not?’ I went for it, and next thing I knew I dove and I had two black jerseys on top of me.
“Now, I’ve got this strawberry on my back, and that’s OK,” he added. “I see this, and it reminds me of this good win. ... When we dove on the floor, we got defensive stops and the crowd went crazy.”
It was just what LSU, which fell 71-57 in College Station on Jan. 19, needed to get going.
“Keith Hornsby set the tone,” coach Johnny Jones said. “The type of play he made (there) was pretty much how the game had played out with that type of energy, that type of hustle, that type of excitement by our guys. We won some loose ball wars today.”
Victor, who tied Simmons for team-high scoring honors with 16 points — 14 of them in the second half — certainly was inspired.
“Turned up,” Victor said when asked what the play did for the Tigers. “We were on after that. … We took off from there.”
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy sensed it as well.
“I thought it revved up the crowd a little bit,” he said. “It got them going to another level. It was a great crowd. That’s how it was when we were at our place. It was the other way around (today).”
That wasn’t A&M’s only problem.
Victor, who was 4-of-7 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line, helped hold A&M center Tyler Davis, who had 18 points and five rebounds in the Aggies’ win in January, to nine points and six rebounds.
“I had a mission the whole game really; (the officials) just cut my mission short,” Victor said of his play in the second half. “I was on a mission from the jump because Davis had a good first game. I took it personal, and I put that load on myself to stop him.”
Gilder and Danuel House, who had a game-high 20 points, had two field goals each, and Jalen Jones had another bucket to help A&M take its last lead at 60-58 with 6:42 to play.
That’s when LSU closed it out with an 18-11 run to the final buzzer.
Simmons had a big day with 16 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and seven assists to go with three steals. He had no turnovers and played all 40 minutes.
Hornsby finished with 15 points, and Blakeney had 10.
“You have to give LSU credit. … They revved up their defense, and offensively they just attacked us inside,” Kennedy said. “Craig Victor was a big difference around the basket. He had 14 the second half, and we had no answer for him. I thought we got out-toughed under the basket.”