LSU had seemingly positioned itself to sweep No. 7 nationally ranked Texas A&M for a second straight year.
The Tigers led by six points at halftime, pushed it to eight early in the third quarter and then went a deep freeze offensively as the Aggies pulled away for a 54-41 SEC victory Thursday night at A&M’s Reed Arena.
LSU (8-8, 6-4 in SEC), which took a 65-61 home overtime victory Jan. 14 over Texas A&M, lost a golden opportunity to move into sole possession of fourth place in the league standings.
“I commend (Texas A&M head) coach (Gary) Blair with everything they were able to accomplish and making it challenging for us to score the basketball in the latter part of the third quarter and the fourth quarter,” LSU acting head coach Charlene Thomas-Swinson, who filled in for a second game for absent head coach Nikki Fargas (COVID-19 protocols).
Texas A&M (17-1, 8-1) ignited a furious 13-0 surge, bridging the end of the third quarter with the start of the fourth quarter. The red-hot Aggies outscored the Tigers 15-4 to pull away for the victory.
Guard Aaliyah Wilson’s corner 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer was the catalyst for A&M, which opened the fourth quarter with consecutive 3-pointers from Wilson and Kayla Pitts for a 45-37 lead.
“The momentum did start going their way,” Thomas-Swinson said. “That’s one thing we’ve been able to respond to in the past games we played. We’ve still found ways to muster up what we needed to have happen in the fourth quarter to play possession for possession and we just did not do that in the fourth quarter.”
LSU’s scoreless drought continued until Faustine Aifuwa’s free throw stopped a 10-0 run and left her team facing a 49-38 deficit with 4:32 remaining. The Tigers missed 11 consecutive shots in the quarter until Khayla Pointer’s 3-pointer with 29 seconds to play.
Pointer finished with 12 points, including three 3-pointers, with Aifuwa scoring 11 points and 6 rebounds with Awa Trasi adding 10 points and 7 rebounds.
With LSU’s offense plunging in the second half to the tune of 26% shooting (6 of 23) and 32% for the game, the Aggies were sizzling with 62% shooting (13 of 21). They outscored the Tigers 33-12 over the last 19 minutes of the game, making up a 29-21 deficit after Trasi’s layup to begin the third quarter.
Kayla Wells led A&M with 14 points and Wilson scored all 11 of her points in the second half. The Aggies guards helped offset the combined six points from interior players Ciera Johnson and N’dea Jones, who averaged a combined 25 points entering the game.
“If we’re going to hold Ciera Johnson and N’dea Jones to single digits in scoring and outrebound (31 to 27) them, but our inability to score the basketball in that third and fourth quarter really did weigh on us and affected what our defensive play looked like,” Thomas-Swinson said. “Normally that doesn’t happen with LSU basketball. We normally hang our hat on defense and play it for four quarters.”
Karli Seay gave LSU a 6-5 lead in the first quarter with an 18-footer at the 6:32 mark, sparking an 11-0 run over the next three-plus minutes for a 13-5 lead.
Seay added a 3-pointer and Pointer and Aifuwa each knocked down jump shots during that stretch, leading to a 18-10 lead after the first quarter where Aifuwa banked in a 12-footer and Jailyn Cherry buried a 3-pointer.
LSU slowed down considerably from its 46% percent shooting in the first quarter and took a 27-21 halftime lead on the strength of a couple of 3-pointers from Pointer in the first three minutes of the second for the Tigers’ biggest lead of 24-14 at the 7:04 mark.
However, the Tigers missed their next nine shot attempts, going scoreless over a 4 ½ minute stretch until Pointer’s free throw made it 25-21 and Aifuwa’s jumper in the lane accounted for a 27-21 halftime lead.
After Trasi’s field goal opened the third quarter, the Tigers were limited to five more field goals the rest of the way, enabling the Aggies to take the lead for good on Wilson’s 3-pointer that concluded the third quarter.
“I felt we started off pretty aggressive with being able to find the bottom of the nets,” Thomas-Swinson said. “We just kind of got away from it. One of the adjustments that great teams do is they started packing it in on our bigs with Awa and Faus (Aifuwa) getting touches and forced our guards to have to score the ball.”