The Fighting Tigers of LSU took their nickname to heart Wednesday night, as they scratched and clawed their way to an SEC victory with a 58-54 win over visiting Texas A&M. In doing so, the Tigers continued to display the unbreakable competitive spirit that has become their identity. Down by as many as 14 points in the first half, they devoured the large deficit with a furious rally just before the half to cut the Aggie lead to one point.
LSU’s ability to erase big leads has been astonishingly consistent all season, whether they have registered a win or a loss. But in the second half against Texas A&M, the Tigers did something they’ve failed to do thus far in SEC play – seize victory in the waning moments of a tight contest. LSU (10-6, 1-4) dropped close games in the final minutes at Auburn, against South Carolina in overtime, and at Georgia, but would not be denied against the Aggies.
First-year head coach Johnny Jones was happy, and relieved, to secure his first SEC victory.
“It’s exciting,” Jones said after the game. “We wanted to make sure we got that behind us. We didn’t get off to a great start, but I credit our guys. They continued to battle.”
Indeed. And if LSU’s tireless persistence represents one of this squad’s calling cards, then its full-court pressure defense reveals another. From the very moment LSU went to its press midway through the first half and until the final horn sounded, the Tigers defense suffocated and overwhelmed the Aggies’ various ball handlers. Texas A&M had an eye-popping 24 turnovers in the game, largely courtesy of the LSU press.
As for Jones, he doesn’t see any secret formula as to how LSU transformed the Aggies into a Texas turnover machine.
“We do a good job of anticipating,” he said. “I thought the press really changed the game for us.”
LSU was ignited by the defensive prowess of Anthony Hickey, who had eight of the Tigers’ 19 steals. Playing from the “centerfield” position in the middle of the LSU press, he pounced on errant Texas A&M passes all night.
“Hickey’s really good on ball,” Jones said of his point guard. “He’s got strong hands, quick hands.”
When LSU returns to action on Saturday afternoon, it will be a game of special significance for Hickey. The Tigers travel to take on one of college basketball’s true blue bloods – the Kentucky Wildcats – and he is a former Kentucky high school “Mr. Basketball.”
Whether Hickey and the Tigers can go into famed Rupp Arena and get their second consecutive win remains to be seen, but Kentucky coach John Calipari is assuredly aware of one thing already – his Wildcats will have to give it their all for the full 40 minutes in order to best the LSU Fighting Tigers.