GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Texas A&M coach Gary Blair expected a letdown when his second-ranked Aggies opened the SEC Tournament after winning their first regular-season league title Sunday.
He also expected his deep, talented group to play their way out of it.
Kayla Wells had 16 points while Alexis Morris added 13 off the bench as Texas A&M pulled away to beat LSU 77-58 on Friday.
It was the first game since the Aggies (23-1) beat No. 7 South Carolina 66-57 and cut down the nets in celebration of the title. Blair knew it’d be a bumpy start against LSU.
“We expected a letdown,” Blair said. “But we did not panic.”
Instead, Blair called on his bench, particularly Rutgers transfer Morris to gain a working margin and advance to the tournament semifinals for the fourth time in the past five years. They’ll play No. 16 Georgia, which topped Kentucky 78-66 later Friday.
Facing LSU (9-13) to start tournament play had to be a scary prospect for Texas A&M. Its only loss this season came to the Tigers 65-61 in overtime in January. LSU also limited the Aggies to their lowest point total of the season despite losing 54-41 in the rematch last month.
“It took us a little while to get going,” Aggies forward Ciera Johnson said. “Then we did what we needed to do.”
That happened right before halftime as Wells and Morris jump-started the offense to put away the Tigers.
Leading 24-22 with 1:54 left in the second quarter, Wells and Morris had four points apiece for a 32-26 Aggies edge at the break.
Wells and Morris were at it again in the third period. Wells had five points and Morris seven as the Aggies pushed the margin to 49-38.
The 5-foot-6 Morris was a big reason why and Johnson said her teammate brought energy to the lineup at a critical time. “That’s what she does,” Johnson said. “So we needed every one of her points today. We definitely needed that boost off the bench.”
LSU could not respond and failed to advance past the quarterfinals for the sixth straight season.
“I thought our defense really failed us today,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said.
Khayla Pointer had 26 points to lead the Tigers.
LSU’s defense gave Texas A&M fits for much of the first two quarters. The Aggies had a 1-of-10 stretch shooting and looked out of rhythm.
The Aggies relied on aggressive defense and offense to do damage to LSU. They limited the Tigers to just 10-of-36 shooting (28%) the first 20 minutes and successfully got the line when their shots wouldn’t fall, making 9 of 10 free throws.
Morris had an impact for Texas A&M as leading scorer Aaliyah Wilson finished with just two points. Wilson had a career-high 15 rebounds, though.
Johnson, Jordan Nixon and N’dea Jones had 12 points each for the Aggies.
THE BIG PICTURE
LSU: The Tigers struggled down the stretch, going 0-5 with two cancelations in February before defeating Mississippi State in Thursday’s second-round matchup. LSU has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2017.
Texas A&M: Getting past their nemesis this season in LSU may fill the Aggies with confidence going forward as they try to lock up their second-ever SEC Tournament. This game may also get Blair to find more minutes for Morris, a sparkplug in this victory.
Texas A&M enjoyed the success of an SEC championship. Then quickly refocused on gaining another at the league tournament. “We knew that after Sunday,” she said. “We’ve got to move on.”
Aggies coach Gary Blair believes LSU, despite its 9-13 season, is deserving of an NCAA Tournament bid. He said they played their best game of the year in defeating Mississippi State here Thursday and feature a star in Khayla Pointer. Tigers coach Fargas said agreed her team deserved consideration for finishing eighth in the difficult SEC.
With a losing record, LSU’s season is likely over.
Texas A&M will play No. 16 Georgia in the SEC Tournament semis Saturday.
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