LSU-Texas A&M Preview
Texas A&M and LSU are meeting in the semifinals of the SEC tournament thanks to solid play from their freshmen.
In the Tigers' case, it wasn't Ben Simmons that led the way in their quarterfinal win, and if they don't beat the 17th-ranked Aggies on Saturday, it's likely Simmons will never get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Top-seeded Texas A&M (25-7) needed a late 7-0 run to defeat Florida 72-66 in the quarters Friday. Leading scorers Jalen Jones and Danuel House combined to shoot 11 for 35, but freshman center Tyler Davis picked up his senior teammates.
Davis went 6 of 10 from the floor and finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a season high-tying 29 minutes.
"His maturity on the floor is beyond a freshman," coach Billy Kennedy said. "Just a pace that he plays with, the decision-making. And I thought and I planned all week in the game-type atmosphere, maybe hurt him a little bit just because he got winded quick. But if you look at it, he played 29 minutes. That's probably a few more minutes than he usually plays. ... He's a special freshman for sure."
House and Jones totaled 28 points despite being off, and Texas A&M shot 39.4 percent overall and 25.0 from 3-point range in its seventh straight victory.
"The first game in any tournament is the hardest game to win," Kennedy said. "All the places I've been coaching, you've got to get past an ugly first-round game. ... Hopefully, we got the ugliness out of us."
An ugly stretch last month has fourth-seeded LSU (19-13) likely needing to win the SEC title to advance to the NCAAs for the second straight season. The Tigers lost four of five Feb. 10-23 but have played better since.
They won for the third time in four games Friday, beating Tennessee 84-75 behind freshman guard Antonio Blakeney's 22 points. Blakeney is averaging 22.2 points and shooting 50.0 percent over the last six games.
Simmons, expected to be the top overall pick in June's NBA draft, had 15 points and eight rebounds but was forced to sit out the final 15:13 of the first half after picking up his second foul.
"It's been big having (Blakeney) come in and hit shots. He's another threat on the team," said Simmons, who played a season-low 25 minutes. " ... Antonio's been playing really well the past few games, and he's been one of the main players."
These teams split two meetings this season with each winning at home. The Aggies struck first when Jones had 20 points and Davis added 18 in a 71-57 victory Jan. 19.
Simmons had 10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in that one before having 16, 11, seven and three in a 76-71 win over then-No. 15 Texas A&M on Feb. 13 - the Aggies' last loss. House led Texas A&M with 20 points.
Another stat-stuffing performance from Simmons could move LSU into the championship game with a chance to secure an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
"We have to play well," coach Johnny Jones said. "If we do that, we'll be at 20 wins. As well, we finished in the top (four) in our league. We feel that we're in a very powerful league. We hope that stands for something, and it will certainly carry some weight. That's what we look forward to."