What a difference the setting made for this one.
The 83 points A&M piled up on LSU two weeks back seems like a bad nightmare, but the Tigers eased that horror a little by rolling the Aggies on Wednesday. This was a perfect sandwich game for the Tigers after dropping the heartbreaker to UK and with a season-defining trip at No. 1 Florida on Saturday. LSU didn't get caught looking ahead, instead doing exactly what it was supposed to and getting some payback in the process.
Most importantly, LSU finally halted its defensive freefall, holding the Aggies below 50 points and looking like the active unit that was present up until February. Of course A&M and its 306th national scoring ranking is not a proper barometer for improvement, but after LSU recently allowed 80 points to Auburn, Mississippi State and A&M, any signs of defensive tenacity are welcome. This team is predicated on being a decent defensive group. LSU's defensive efficiency has plummeted in SEC play, and it's no surprise that the Tigers' record dipped with it. Whether it was Jordan Mickey's five blocks, holding A&M to 30 percent shooting or outrebounding the Aggies by 10, the effort was there again, even for a decidedly unsexy matchup.
Coaching should be a lot easier for Johnny Jones now, with a short rotation solidified against the Aggies. Jones is going to trot out his starting five plus Andre Stringer for approximately 30 minutes a game each, with Quarterman and Odo maybe getting a handful of minutes apiece. This win shows why it's a good thing, because Stringer is shooting better than ever, Jarell Martin is hitting his stride and Johnny O'Bryant III is managing to stay out of foul trouble. The dip between LSU's first six and its next six is more significant than maybe any other in the SEC. Expect to see a short bench again in Gainesville on Saturday.
Let's get to Jarell Martin. He's been picking up steam in league play, and February was a good month for him. After compiling his second 20-point night in a week, Martin finished the month averaging 13.7 points and six rebounds a game in eight outings. He's looking more and more like the five-star talent we expected to see when he signed. Maybe it's the ankle injury finally wearing off or just a young player adjusting, but LSU needs more Martin maturation come March.
The specifics of this game were decidedly ho-hum. #SECBasketballFever was alive and well when A&M went TEN minutes - 50 percent of the half or 25 percent of the game - without scoring as LSU's 21-0 run swung the early Aggies advantage into the Tigers favor. Yet it was still only a 30-24 game at halftime. The early moments of the second half were fairly ugly, and LSU was clinging to a 34-29 lead at the 14:51 mark.
Martin came alive, pouring in the next seven points to spur a 14-4 run that provided some breathing room. Mickey joined in with a mini-block contest before a couple JOB dunks and Tiger 3s turned the game into a rout by the five-minute mark. One thing LSU hasn't been this season is blown out, so it's a good sign when Henry Shortess and Darcy Malone are getting late minutes. Malone again displayed some shooting range with a late 3, something that could be an asset for him as he vies for more playing time next year.
In the end, a home win is nothing new for LSU. Outside of two curious losses to Rhode Island and Tennessee in early January, the Tigers have been fearsome in the PMAC but very flawed outside of it. LSU can't take the PMAC with it, which might be a bit of a problem with Florida and Vanderbilt on the horizon. Maybe LSU really did turn a corner in Rupp and has something left in the tank. I just don't think this game is useful as proof.