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LSU forward Tari Eason had to limp to do it, but he was able to camera bomb teammate Eric Gaines on the SEC Network after the No. 19 Tigers beat Texas A&M 70-64 on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge to snap a three-game losing streak.
Eason injured his right leg with 14:40 to play in the game, limped back in later, but eventually had to sit and watch teammates like Gaines and freshman Brandon Murray take over for the Tigers (16-4, 4-4 SEC).
“That man. That man,” Eason said to the SEC Network from behind Gaines as he grabbed him by the shoulders and limped off.
Gaines scored 16 with six rebounds, four steals and a critical partial block of an open dunk attempt by Marcus Williams with 28 seconds to play to preserve a 66-64 LSU lead. Gaines just got a hand on a shot that Williams probably could have made, had he used the backboard.
“I didn’t want him to get the dunk,” Gaines said. “Good no call by the ref. It was a clean block.”
After a somewhat cheap foul call on Williams with 17.6 seconds to go, Murray hit two free throws for a 68-64 lead and finished with a game-high 21 points. Gaines added two more free throws with 3.5 seconds left for the final to finish a 9-0 run to end the game.
Harshly critical of officiating and an imbalance of free throws awarded to opponents for weeks, LSU coach Will Wade got key calls this time, including the two above, as his team shot 35 free throws to 20 by the visiting Aggies. Maybe Wade will now realize that the road team routinely tends to shoot significantly fewer free throws in the SEC and nationwide. It’s not a new concept.
“We ran up the foul count early,” said Gaines, who hit 9 of 12 from the free throw line while no Aggie player shot more than half a dozen free throws. “And once we did that, coach said to just keep attacking.”
In a new strategy, LSU shot only 13 times from 3-point range, making six for 46 percent, after coming in averaging 20 a game. The Tigers went to the lane more, which tends to land a team at the free throw line more. Texas A&M was 9 of 26 from 3-point range for 34 percent.
“Great, great win,” Wade said. “We found a way. I thought Eric Gaines played his best game here. To play the last 12 minutes without Tari, just very proud of the guys.”
Eason still scored 14 points with nine rebounds, two steals and two assists in 27 minutes — many of which were spent limping.
Gaines continued to start for regular senior point guard Xavier Pinson, who missed his fifth straight game with a knee injury.
“I was doubted,” Gaines said. “Doubters — just wanted to prove them wrong.”
LSU was also without senior starting forward Darius Days because of an ankle injury. Wade started three players who had never started before — freshman guard Justice Williams, freshman forward Alex Fudge and Eason, a sophomore who has been the sixth man.
“Just proud of our guys,” Wade said. “We’ve still got a lot of growth to go, but I’m very proud.”
Seldom used forward Shareef O’Neal — son of LSU and NBA great Shaquille O’Neal — scored seven points off the bench, including a 3-pointer, and added three rebounds. His father never took a 3-pointer in three seasons at LSU from 1989-92.
Quenton Jackson scored 20 to lead Texas A&M (15-5, 4-3 SEC), which started off 4-0 in the league. Andre Gordon added 18, and Baton Rouge native Tyrece Radford scored 14.
“We were 0-3,” Gaines said. “We had to get this home game win. We lost a home game to Arkansas. We had to get the win.”
LSU plays at TCU (13-4, 3-3 Big 12) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday at noon eastern on ESPN2.
Arkansas won its fifth straight, 64-55 at Ole Miss on Wednesday night as guard JD Notae, the SEC’s leading scorer with 18 a game, put in a game-high 25 points for the Razorbacks (15-5, 5-3).
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman continues to recover from rotator cuff surgery that made him miss the Razorbacks’ 65-58 at LSU on Jan. 15.
“I don’t think the guys really care,” he said. “I mean, they went to LSU without me and played our best game of the year.”
That was the second game of Arkansas’ five-game winning streak.
“Any time you win five in a row in this league, your guys are playing hard,” Musselman said.
Arkansas will host West Virginia (13-6, 2-5 Big 12) at 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. Ole Miss (10-10, 2-6) hosts Kansas State (10-9, 2-6) at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.
“Bud Walton Arena will be rocking on Saturday,” Musselman said. “That I know. I’m going to go ice down now.”
In other SEC games Wednesday, No. 18 Tennessee beat visiting Florida 78-71 and South Carolina defeated visiting Vanderbilt 70-61.
Tennessee (14-5, 5-3) plays at Texas (15-5, 5-3 Big 12) at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.