COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Since blowing Arkansas out of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Jan. 13, nothing has come easy for the LSU basketball team.
LSU had to rally late to slip past South Carolina, then lost to Alabama and Kentucky — both by double digits — in a five-day span.
On Tuesday night, Texas A&M gave LSU all it wanted before the Tigers pulled themselves together in the final eight minutes to claim a crucial 78-66 win in Reed Arena.
Coming from six points down with 7:57 to play, the Tigers earned a sweep of the home-and-home series with the Aggies after prevailing 77-54 in the first game on Dec. 29.
With the come-from-behind victory, Will Wade avoided what would have been a three-game Southeastern Conference losing streak for just the second time in his four-year tenure.
Unlike the first meeting, it was anything but a breeze this time.
The Tigers’ oft-maligned defense made the difference down the stretch, holding Texas A&M scoreless in the final 8:49 of the game while the offense put the final 18 points of the game on the scoreboard.
A&M (7-7, 2-6 SEC) held a 66-60 lead on a 3-point basket by Jay Jay Chandler with 8:50 to play when LSU (11-4, 6-3 SEC) turned up the defensive heat after it managed just a 41-36 halftime lead.
“I thought our guys just hung in there,” Wade said. “We played really well in the first half, but didn’t have a lot to show for it.”
It looked even more bleak in the second half when Texas A&M knocked down 10 of its first 15 field-goal attempts in the second half to take a six-point lead on two occasions.
But it was all downhill after that when the Aggies missed their final 15 shots from the field and were 1 of 18 overall in the final 10 minutes of the contest.
Texas A&M also had two turnovers, including a shot-clock violation, and two airballs in a dismal ending to the game after it thought it had LSU on the ropes.
LSU’s comeback started with 3-point baskets by Javonte Smart and Cam Thomas, and Darius Days added a layup to get back to within one after Chandler’s big 3 gave his team even more momentum.
As the defense tightened up, Trendon Watford had a couple of free throws, Thomas hit a 3-pointer from the corner and then was fouled on a shot from beyond the arc.
He made all three free throws for the second time in the half and LSU was back in charge 73-66 with 2:35 to go. Thomas finished 9 of 9 from the line and 8 of 21 from the field.
“We mixed it up tonight, we brought (Thomas) off some ball screens,” Wade said. “He did a great job moving without the ball, which put us in a great position.”
Texas A&M nailed seven 3-pointers in the second half to get in position to possibly pull off an upset before the Aggies’ melted down from the field at the wrong time.
“The got hot from 3,” Wade said. “We finally ran them off the 3-point line, made them dribble, made them drive, and we were able to make some plays down the stretch.
“I’m very proud of our guys. … We responded the right way,” he said. “We preach the six-minute game and we were lights out the last six minutes. We valued the ball and made our free throws.”
With Thomas leading the way, LSU had four double-digit scorers.
Thomas had a game-high 28 points, while Smart had 19, Watford 13 and Days 11.
Watford also had eight rebounds, Smart had nine assists and Days added six rebounds.
“When (Days) is playing well, we’ve very tough to beat,” Wade said. “He helps us rebounding, he hit huge threes tonight.
“I’m real proud of Days, Trendon, Javonte. Cam was back to being his old self. I’m very pleased with our entire team effort.”
Chandler, who had two points in the loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, had a team-high 21 for A&M and Savion Flagg finished with 17.
But LSU clamped down when it needed to.
“I’m very, very proud of our guys,” Wade said. “We needed to find a way to win and we did.”