February 05, 2016

(AP) - Texas A&M's perfect start in the SEC suddenly seems like a distant memory.

The eighth-ranked Aggies now find themselves tied for first in the league as they get set to host No. 25 South Carolina on Saturday.

Texas A&M won its first seven in conference play as part of a 10-game winning streak that saw it climb to No. 5 in the nation, its highest ranking ever.

That run, though, came to an end at Arkansas on Jan. 27 before the Aggies stepped out of league play and beat then-No. 14 Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge last Saturday.

They returned to SEC action Thursday at Vanderbilt and fell 77-60 to drop into a first-place tie with LSU.

Senior swingman Jalen Jones, who leads Texas A&M (18-4, 7-2) with 16.1 points per game, was held to four on 1-of-13 shooting. His field-goal percentage has decreased in each of the last four games, and he's at 24.5 percent in that span while also going 2 of 14 from 3-point range.

''(Jalen) rushed and he put some pressure on himself,'' coach Billy Kennedy said. ''You've got to give them credit for speeding him up and getting him out of rhythm.''

Jones also struggled in last season's meeting with South Carolina, going 3 of 11 from the field and scoring 12 in a 62-52 road victory. Texas A&M has won three of four in the series since joining the SEC for the 2012-13 season and taken both matchups at home, where it's 13-0 this season.

South Carolina (19-3, 6-3) can inch closer to the top of the SEC and reach 20 wins for the first time in seven years as it tries to prevent its first losing streak of the season.

Forward Mindaugas Kacinas said the players won't worry much about all that, carrying the same mindset into Texas A&M they've worked with all season.

''We don't overreact to a win or loss,'' said Kacinas, a senior who is among five South Carolina players averaging double-figure points. ''We come in every day after the game, just work hard, learn from our mistakes and move forward.''

If the Gamecocks do that once more, they could come out of the weekend on top of the SEC.

South Carolina might've been in first already if it had taken care of things against up-and-down Georgia on Tuesday in a 69-56 loss. Kacinas said the team came out sluggish and could not match the Bulldogs' intensity.

''We got outrebounded, got outshot at the free throw line,'' coach Frank Martin said. ''It's hard for us to win when that happens.''

Martin said several players were ''listless.''

The Gamecocks put those issues aside the next day and had several days of perky workouts, Kacinas said.

''We've worked on what we did wrong,'' he said. ''We're ready to go.''

The Gamecocks will face a motivated A&M team that is eager to regain its footing.

''We know what we'll be up against,'' Kacinas said.

Kacinas said all the Gamecocks are ready to show they've got staying power and their 15-0 start was not a fluke.

''Everyone is `Let's get it popping. Let's play,''' he said. ''Everyone is super excited.''

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