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Behind the Boxscore: Texas A&M

Boot Up and Rally

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU might have saved its season Tuesday night.

Maybe that’s a bit premature, but if LSU had blown a 17-point lead to a middling at best Texas A&M team and missed out on the NCAA Tournament we’d point to that game and say “yep that’s the one.”

And for a while there they did in fact blow it, but some unexpected great defense late saved the day and the Tigers are about to enter a critical month of February.

17: The first half margin that LSU blew

Incredibly frustrating. Usually with basketball a 17-point lead is whittled away to three or four points, but LSU gave the whole thing away and got down six points to boot. Giving away seemingly insurmountable leads seems to be in the very DNA of LSU men’s basketball, but fortunately LSU was able to rally back because...

0: The number of points Texas A&M scored the final 8:50

LSU isn’t a great defensive team, and yet they can transform into the Bad Boy Pistons on a moments notice. It’s truly confounding but I’m not complaining because if the defense doesn’t lock down Texas A&M, LSU may not have gotten out of College Station with a win.

-46: LSU’s bench points margin

A 51:5 scoring discrepancy from the bench should be impossible, but LSU, again, keeps getting virtually nothing from their reserves while opponents light up the Tigers.

LSU is a unique team in that four of its five starters are legitimate scoring threats so bench production isn’t relied on as heavily. But we only need to look back to last Saturday’s loss to Kentucky to see what can happen when the starters don’t produce as we’re accustomed to seeing: Darius Days fouled out, Javonte Smart was held to four points, and Cam Thomas and Trendon Watford combined to shoot 16-40. LSU only got 11 points from the bench against Kentucky and LSU lost by 13.

History nearly repeated itself against Texas A&M but LSU was fortunate to get enough production from the starting five. But with who LSU has coming up on their schedule—Texas Tech, Alabama and Florida—I’m not sure the Tigers can afford another effort like that from the bench.

10: Number of Shareef O’Neal minutes

Speaking of the bench, O’Neal gave LSU some good production in ways other than scoring. O’Neal only had two points but he grabbed three rebounds and was on the floor during most of that final 8:50 stretch to end the gam; his 6’10” frame gives LSU some much needed height in the interior.

I’m hoping O’Neal can carve out more minutes for LSU, I feel he could help LSU take that next step defensively. I’d love to see a five-man lineup of Smart and Thomas in the backcourt, Days as the stretch three, Watford initiating offense in the high post with O’Neal on the block.

But is there time to experiment? It’s already the end of January and LSU’s about to play its toughest stretch of the season. Losing out on a couple of non-conference games and O’Neal’s foot injury coincided at the worst possible time and I don’t think playing No. 10 Texas Tech or No. 9 Alabama is the time to get break out a new starting lineup.