Texas A&M men’s basketball travelled to Baton Rouge, La., for its SEC opener on Tuesday and was met with its second loss of the young season.
Having lost six straight games to LSU prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the Aggies were nearly outscored by just two of LSU's key players in their seventh straight loss to the Tigers.
LSU freshman guard Cameron Thomas, who leads all NCAA Division I freshmen in scoring with 22.8 points per game, set a new career high with 32 points while shooting 5-of-11 from deep. Combined with 18 points from junior Darius Days, who has been near unstoppable in the paint this season, A&M simply could not keep up in scoring.
“[Thomas is a] very talented player,” A&M coach Buzz Williams said. “I think he is the leading scorer in our league, ninth leading scorer in the country. Very hard matchup, can score at all three levels. [LSU is] a top 10 team in the country in my opinion. We were not caught off guard relative to his talent.”
Through the first half, and particularly through the first 12 minutes, A&M showed signs of improvement upon areas it has been subpar in. LSU’s fast -paced offense stalled, shooting 0-of-6 from deep while A&M controlled the ball better than it had prior in the season, limiting first half turnovers to five.
Trailing by only one point with eight minutes remaining, Days knocked down a three that sent the Aggies into a tailspin. From this point on, LSU improved to 5-of-12 from three and expanded their lead 14 points to going into the half.
“When they started hitting a bunch of threes late in the clock that kind of took a toll on us,” sophomore forward Emanuel Miller said. “We did great leading up to it, but now we have to figure out how to finish out possessions.”
While LSU’s Days and Thomas both had 13 points in the first half, A&M senior guard Quenton Jackson led the Aggies in scoring with eight points, including a highlight reel windmill dunk, through 20 minutes.
Compared to LSU’s over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep, A&M struggled with shooting throughout the game, going into halftime shooting 33 percent from the field and 23 percent from beyond the arc.
Many things were missing on Tuesday for the Aggies, including senior guard Jay Jay Chandler, freshman guard Hayden Hefner and Emanuel Miller's consistent presence at the freethrow line.
“I know we have made more [free throws] than our opponents have attempted in nonconference,” Williams said. “Tonight we made seven at the lowest percentage we have shot this year and they attempted nine. This was the lowest possession game that we have played thus far this season. In a shortened game, you're not going to have as many opportunities to get to the bonus.”
Miller still shot well on the game, making six of seven shots from the field and two free throws for 14 points in addition to his eight rebounds. Jackson shot 6-of-10 on the night, which allowed him to lead the Aggies in scoring.
As a team, A&M ended the game 21-of-55 from the field and 5-of-26 from deep on a rough shooting night. Williams said this is more to the credit of LSU’s defense than the fault of A&M’s offense.
“We define our shots, and that's one things we study at halftime and during the game,” Williams said. “42 of the 55 [shots] are what we would define as perfect. 12 were average, and one was bad. We made one out of 12 average shots for eight percent. We shot 48 percent on perfect shots. Going into tonight's game, our perfect shot field goal percentage was in the high sixties… I think it was the athleticism, and the force, and the quickness and the length that LSU has.”
While A&M limited turnovers to 13 on the night, an improvement on earlier games this season, it was still outrebounded 40-31 and out assisted on the night 13-13 by LSU. Miller said the loss in the conference opener is something to learn from rather than something to dwell on.
“I feel confident, I always feel confident in my guys,” Miller said. “I know how hard we work in practice and how hard we work behind the scenes. I'm confident that we can bounce back, lock back in. We didn't get the result we wanted today but that's not going to stop us from getting the result we want next game.”