BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU guard Skylar Mays rose decisively for late-game 3-pointers, mixed in a crisp, cross-court pass to set up Emmitt Williams' pivotal fast-break dunk and hustled into the paint on the defensive end to help the Tigers compete for rebounds.
Mays scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and grabbed eight rebounds to help LSU defeat Texas A&M 64-50 on Saturday. It was a performance the Tigers sorely needed coming off a 15-point setback at Florida that marked LSU's fifth loss in its previous seven games.
“The biggest thing that we did out there was we just competed and took pride in it,” Mays said. “It shows what we are capable of and we are just going to build on it."
LSU (20-9, 11-5 SEC) now needs one victory in its final two regular season games — or one loss by both South Carolina and Mississippi State — to clinch a double-bye in the SEC tournament. A victory would be preferable for as the Tigers seek to re-establish their NCAA Tournament credentials after recently plummeting out of the Top 25.
Javonte Smart scored 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half to help LSU open an early 13-point lead.
“We played with really good effort, energy and physicality,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “It was a much needed win and I'm proud of their effort.”
The Tigers held a lead of around 10 points for much of the game, but the Aggies (14-14, 8-8) briefly closed to 55-48 when when A&M top scorer Savion Flagg hit a 3 with 5:54 left.
Mays responded with his fifth 3 of the game and later set up Williams' transition dunk that gave the Tigers a 60-48 lead with 3:26 left. The Aggies managed only one basket the rest of the way.
“They're really good. All credit to them,” A&M coach Buzz Williams said of LSU. “Their size, their length, their talent, their scheme — all of it for sure impacted us.”
Hitting 6 of 8 shots, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, Flagg finished with 17 points, giving him 10 or more points in six straight games. Josh Nebo added 11 points and nine rebounds for A&M.
Texas A&M: The Aggies shot 40.8%, with just Flagg and Nebo making as many as half of their shots. A&M's point total was the lowest by one of LSU's SEC opponents since A&M scored 49 in 2014. A lack of assertiveness inside limited the Aggies to nine free throws, of which they missed eight, including all five in the second half. A&M also committed 13 turnovers, leading to 12 LSU points.
“We need to make more than one free throw,” Williams said. “We need to try to get in the bonus both halves, as early as we can.”
LSU: Despite shooting inconsistently, the Tigers maintained a comfortable lead most of the way by playing effective defense, limiting their own turnovers to a season-low four, and outrebounding A&M 35-33. Although LSU only shot 40.4%, the Tigers combined for 10 3s, one more than the Aggies, and outscored the A&M 8-1 on the free throw line.
RETIRING NO. 35
Three decades after playing his final game for LSU, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stood on the court during halftime to see an enlarged image of his No. 35 jersey retired and hung in the rafters next to that of former teammate Shaquille O'Neal. Abdul-Rauf went by the name Chris Jackson during his two years at LSU and when he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1990.
O'Neal recorded a video message played on the scoreboard, saying Abdul-Rauf was “really the best player” on their team.
Among dignitaries in attendance were Bob Pettit, a former LSU and NBA star who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, and former LSU and NBA player Rudy Macklin, who is among five players, along with Pettit and the late Pete Maravich, to have his jersey retired by LSU. The volume of the applauding crowd spiked when Abdul-Rauf embraced his former coach, Dale Brown.
Abdul-Rauf thanked Brown, his mother, former teammates and people from his childhood in Mississippi for their role in his success.
“Growing up without a father, I would wake up and I would train relentlessly because one of my goals was to have a family someday and to be able to raise children,” Abdul-Rauf said as tears began rolling down his cheeks and several of his children converged affectionately around him. “So I just wanted them to know, even though they weren't there through all those years of training, they were always in the back of my mind, and I wanted them to experience this moment.”
Texas A&M: Visits Auburn on Wednesday night.
LSU: Visits Arkansas on Wednesday night.
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