Big Time: Jordan Wright’s double-double, LSU’s physical play and aggressive defense power Tigers past heavily-favored Texas A&M on the road in SEC Opener

Jalen Cook vs Texas A&M
Jalen Cook's affect on LSU's transformation into a team that can more than compete in the SEC appeared to rise to a new level on Saturday night as he and Jordan Wright combined to lead the Tigers to a 68-53 upset over highly-favored Texas A&M. PHOTO by LSU Athletics

Circle the date. This is one you’ll not want to forget.

January 6, 2024.

Dare to say, LSU basketball is back.

The team that no one thought could do it, not only did it, it did it “big time.”

LSU went on the road to open Southeastern Conference play, went into Reed Arena in College Station and stared one of the league’s best team’s from last season – Texas A&M – in the face, met the Aggies head on. They matched strength for strength with the team that won 15 conference games last season, a team that came within a smidgen of winning the conference title and one that is projected to challenge for the SEC championship this season, and Matt McMahon’s Tigers, of all teams, flat out whipped the Aggies every which way possible.

LSU whipped Texas A&M at its own game, on its own floor, where the Aggies were 12-point favorites and had a 89 percent chance, according to ESPN, of defeating the Tigers who hadn’t won a road game in the SEC in nearly two years.

Instead, LSU outmuscled, outplayed, out-shot, out-defended, out-hustled and, most importantly, outrebounded Texas A&M, who just happened to be the nation’s No. 1 offensive rebounding team, as the Tigers won not only the first SEC game of the season, 68-53, but also picked up Coach Matt McMahon’s first-ever SEC road victory in the process.

It was big time.

“I’m really proud of these players,” McMahon said.

“You know, I thought the physicality and toughness was on full display in every area. That’s the strength of this A&M team, their ability just to dominate you on the offensive glass can destroy you especially when you combine it with the way they shoot at the free throw line. We had to play good defense and defend the boards to win. We had to (also win) the turnover battle and, you know, we did. I just can’t say enough about our guys’ effort on the on the defensive glass. I thought our rim protection was so strong, we contested every board, even when we got beat, guys came over and helped and made them take some tough (second) shots.

“And then I really liked our composure on the offensive side of the ball. We didn’t shoot a great percentage, but I thought we got good, quality shots especially in the second half.”

Trailing 32-30 at halftime despite having outshot and outrebounded Texas A&M in the first half, LSU dominated the Aggies in the second half, outscoring them by 17 points.

In the first half, Texas A&M had a 10-point advantage over LSU at the free throw line alone. The Aggies made 14 of 17 free throws in the first half compared to LSU’s four points in six attempts. Texas A&M only went to the free throw 11 times in the second half and made only four of those attempts.

LSU opened the second half on an 8-0 run, took the lead at 33-32 with 18:26 left in the game, and never looked back. LSU never trailed again.

Jordan Wright led LSU with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season, and Jalen Cook added 13 points, including two key 3 pointers, as LSU won on the road in the SEC for the first time since February 8, 2022.

The last time LSU outscored an SEC opponent by 17 or more points in the second half on their home court was Feb. 26, 2005 at Auburn.

Wright made 7 of 16 shots, including two 3-pointers of his own and was 4 of 6 from the free throw line for the Tigers (9-5, 1-0 SEC).

Wade Taylor IV led Texas A&M (9-5, 0-1 SEC) with 23 points.

Taylor was 3 of 12 on 3-point attempts and he added six rebounds and six steals. Tyrece Radford scored 11 points with six boards.

LSU broke Texas A&M’s 12-game conference win streak at Reed Arena.

Taylor, Texas A&M leading scorer this season, hit the 150th 3-pointer of his career — the seventh Aggie to reach that milestone.

Cook had a three-point play in the middle of LSU’s 8-0 run to begin the second half and LSU took the lead and never relinquished it.

Texas A&M closed LSU’s lead to two points on Taylor’s three-point play, 46-44, with just under 12 minutes remaining. But Tyrell Ward answered with a 3-pointer to spark another run for LSU, this one 9-0 for the Tigers, and Ward capped it with a two-hand dunk that gave LSU a double-digit lead,

LSU lead by at least four points the rest of the way and pulled away as the Tigers suffocated the Aggies defensively and held them scoreless for the final 3:40 of the game.

Texas A&M came in averaging 18.7 offensive rebounds per game, tops in the country. LSU finished with 14 rebounds at the offensive end to the Aggies’ 13, but the Tigers had an 18-3 advantage on second-chance points.

“We knew going into the game, it would be a tough away game for us opening to SEC play, so we just came out with a lot of energy and just did what coach told us we needed to do,” Cook said.

“We attacked the boards. We kept them off the boards and limited their ability to score near the rim. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. So, you know, it was big time, for sure,” he said.

LSU’s SEC home opener is on Tuesday when it plays host to Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. The Commodores lost to Alabama 78-75 on Saturday night.

McMahon said he was eager to get back to Baton Rouge and he is happy for the quick turnaround so LSU can keep the competitive identity and physical nature this team has recently begun taking on can keep growing.

“Sounds strange, but our season kind of started over December 16 when we got Jalen Cook eligible,” McMahon said.

“And it changed the way we’re able to play. I think the ultimate quality of a good point guard is the ability to make everyone else around him better. I think he’s done that. I think we had tremendous leadership from Jordan Wright tonight. He goes for 20 and 10. We just knew, coming into this game, there were three stats where A&M just absolutely dominates their opponents – rebounding, the free throw line, where they did outplay us tonight, and then the turnover battle. We were solid in two of those three areas. If you would have told me we’d outscore the 18-3 in second chance points, I would have lost everything.

“But I was proud of our guys toughness and fight there,” McMahon said.

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