Less than 48 hours removed from LSU’s improbable comeback win against Missouri on Saturday night, Tigers head coach Will Wade entered the basketball media room with one thing on his mind:
How is LSU going to defeat Texas A&M on the road Wednesday night?
“Moving on we got A&M on Wednesday,” Wade said. “They’re coming off a huge win over Kansas State. They played extremely well against Kansas State. They played well in their last two games. They had a 13-point lead at half at Florida. They didn’t play really well at Missouri before that. They’ve changed a few things and they’re playing much better. They’re playing at a high level.”
The No. 19 Tigers (16-3, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) and Aggies (8-10, 1-5) will tip off at 8 p.m. in Reed Arena for LSU’s fourth road game in six games.
After losing its first road game of the season against Houston, the Tigers have found some success on the road since the start of SEC play with wins against Arkansas, Ole Miss and, most recently, Missouri.
Two of those wins came in overtime, something Wade would like to avoid moving forward.
“We don’t want to keep pressing our luck,” Wade said. “We don’t want to be down big and have to rally. …We need to put ourselves in better positions and play better throughout the course of the game so that we’re not having to stage a furious rally or pull a rabbit out of the hat.”
Now LSU must find a way to put the memorable comeback behind it and focus on a Texas A&M squad going into Wednesday with something to prove.
The Aggies have played much better basketball than their record would indicate, giving No. 7 Kentucky a scare early in SEC play and got out to another hot start against Florida last Tuesday (Jan.22).
They also enter the game fresh off a convincing 65-53 win against Kansas State in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Texas A&M is led by its backcourt led by sophomore guard TJ Starks, who leads Texas A&M with 12.8 points per game. He takes 31.9 percent of the Aggies’ shots when he’s on the floor.
Wade also pointed out Wendell Mitchell as a guard LSU will have to keep an eye on as he serves as the Aggies’ best 3-point option. As a team, Texas A&M shoots worse than 30 percent from deep, but Mitchell keeps the team afloat from deep shooting at a 40.3 percent rate from behind the 3-point line.
“Mitchell is a heck of a player, and Starks is having a great year,” Wade said. “Mitchell just went for 22 in the second half against Kansas State. He had seven 3’s against Florida. He’s playing at a high, high level.”
Good guards are nothing new for LSU, especially considering the trouble it had against Missouri point guard Jordan Geist.
Geist almost single-handedly took LSU down on Saturday with 25 points and 11 rebounds while dicing up the defense seemingly at will.
LSU guard Skylar Mays said the Tigers’ backcourt will have
to do a much better job defensively against the Aggies, who primarily do their
damage inside the 3-point line with cuts and ball screens.
“They definitely have great guard play,” Mays said. “Their bigs are active. They’re much better than their record. They just beat Kansas State. … They’re able to compete in this league. We can’t just look over them.”
Wade refrained from saying LSU has a target on its back, saying it’s not like the Tigers have become a blueblood in the conference like Kentucky over night.
But he did concede that opposing teams that have struggled thus far in conference play will likely look at the Tigers as an opportunity to turn their season around, and the Aggies fit that bill to a T.
“What happens is you’ve got teams that want to make a stand, and you’ve got a level of desperation, a level of hunger,” Wade said. “Then they go against a team (like LSU) that’s got good numbers and a team that can really turn your season around.
“I think the teams get a little bit more excited than all the fans and the other periphery stuff. I don’t think LSU moves the needle a whole lot with the fans. But I do think that because of our numbers and we’re ranked and that sort of thing… I think that gets the team and the players a bit more on edge and hungrier.”
WHO: No. 19 LSU (16-3, 6-0 SEC); Texas A&M (8-10, 1-5)
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
PROGRAMMING: ESPN2, 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge
SPREAD: LSU -5.5