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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Surviving the Tiger pit

A&M men’s basketball looks to rebound versus LSU
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Photo by Chris Swann
Junior G Wade Taylor (4) walks towards the bench as LSU G Trae Hannibal (0) high-fives G Jordan Wright (6) after drawing a foul during Texas A&M’s game against LSU on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024 at Reed Arena (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

A potential 1-4 start in SEC play looms over the Texas A&M men’s basketball team as it faces long-time rival LSU on Saturday, Jan. 20, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. 

The 10-7 Aggies are coming off a 78-77 loss at Arkansas on Jan. 16 that ended with a game-winning shot from junior guard Tramon Mark. 

In the matchup against Arkansas, the Aggies had only two players score in double digits as junior guard Wade Taylor IV scored a career-high 41 points and senior forward Andersson Garcia added 10 off the bench.

 

The Aggies were missing senior forward Henry Coleman III, leading coach Buzz Williams to adopt a small-ball lineup. This strategy relied on forwards sophomore Solomon Washington and senior Wildens Leveque focusing on the paint on both sides of the ball.

This put A&M in a position where it had to rely on the perimeter scoring of Taylor, and guards senior Hayden Hefner and graduate Tyrece Radford. However, Hefner was 0-of-6 from the field with only three points from free throws, and Radford shot 2-of-15 with only two free throws getting him to six points.

Last season, the Aggies were 5-0 five games into SEC play and had a more balanced offense that didn’t rely too much on one player. This season, things are different and if the Aggies want a chance at the NCAA tournament in March, that’s going to have to change quickly. 

The overall season’s trends of poor shooting efficiency and scoring inconsistency continued against the Razorbacks and have prevented the team from winning more than two games in a row. 

Even if Taylor is averaging a career-high 20 points per game, his shooting efficiency has dropped as he has had to take on a more “hero ball” role in the offense. Taylor’s splits this season are down to 36% from the field and 28% from three compared to 39% and 36%, respectively, last season. 

The hero ball play style has stemmed from scoring inconsistencies from Radford and Hefner, as the latter has not scored above double digits in the last five games and has seen his playing time reduced as a result. 

The offense has been the key issue for the Aggies this season, but the defense has taken a small step back. The paint defense was inconsistent in some games, and it has become clear the team misses senior forward Julius Marble being paired in the frontcourt next to Coleman. Without Marble, the Maroon and White have been forced to run small ball lineups consisting of three guards, mostly including Taylor, Radford and Hefner. 

Perimeter defense has remained steady throughout the year, forcing opponents into 12 turnovers a game while also averaging eight steals to help get those turnovers.

The Tigers’ success is a change of pace compared to last year. LSU’s 2022-23 conference play started with a win over Arkansas and then followed with 14 straight losses and only two more wins to finish the year. 

LSU’s 3-1 start in the SEC began with a 68-53 win over the Aggies in the conference opener for both teams. In that matchup, senior guard Jordan Wright led the way for the Tigers with 20 points and 10 rebounds and junior guard Jalen Cook added 13 points of his own en route to the 15-point win for LSU. 

LSU is coming off an upset 89-80 win over No. 22 Ole Miss, where Wright had his second-highest scoring game of the season with 27 points and a career-high seven steals. 

The Tigers’ offense flows through Wright’s 16 points per game and Cook’s 15. Cook handles a lot of the playmaking duties for the Tigers with three assists per game but Wright also contributes some of his own with two a game.

However, the key to the Tigers’ success so far in the SEC and as a whole for the season has been their twitchy defense that has been pesky in passing lanes and physically suffocating on ball handlers.

The team averages almost 10 steals per game and four blocks per game. Four of those steals come from Wright and Cook as the duo has made it difficult for opposing guards to create any offense on the perimeter without any resistance. 

The key for the Tigers to win this game against A&M is to not allow Radford or any other Aggie outside of Taylor to get hot. Limiting Taylor to playing hero ball and outscoring him while also winning the rebounding battle won LSU the first matchup of the season. 

Relying on the perimeter defense to shut down LSU’s two-guard tandem is going to go a long way for the Aggies to win this matchup. However, the key to success in this game for the Aggies is hoping Taylor and Radford can both provide a strong scoring effort while also not getting too many turnovers from LSU’s aggressive perimeter defense. 

The matchup between the two teams will be televised on ESPNU at 3 p.m.

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