February 12, 2016

Texas A&M contained LSU star freshman Ben Simmons last month during its prosperous start to SEC play, but that's quickly becoming a distant memory.

The 15th-ranked Aggies have dropped three in a row heading into Saturday's visit to the Tigers, who will seek to maintain their share of first place in the conference.

Texas A&M held Simmons to 10 points, his second-fewest this season, in a 71-57 victory Jan. 19. Aggies freshman Tyler Davis matched a career high with 18 points and Jalen Jones scored 20 in the sixth of seven consecutive wins to open league play.

Texas A&M has dropped four straight SEC games since then, including a heartbreaker Wednesday at Alabama. Anthony Collins missed a pair of free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining in a 63-62 loss.

The Aggies nearly rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final 2:11 with Collins getting them to within one on a 3-pointer with 53 seconds to go.

"Our guys fought back," coach Billy Kennedy said. "We came out in the second half and were much more aggressive offensively, but we've got some guys playing down instead of playing up, meaning they're not playing with the confidence and ability that they have right now."

A win would have pushed A&M (18-6, 7-4) into a four-way tie for the SEC lead. Instead, it dropped one game back of LSU (15-9, 8-3), South Carolina and Kentucky.

If the Aggies can get past the Tigers, they would appear to have a favorable chance to make their mark in the race with two of their six ensuing games against teams above .500 in the conference.

LSU couldn't keep its hold on sole possession of the SEC lead Wednesday, losing 94-83 at South Carolina. The Gamecocks will face Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, meaning the Tigers need to win to keep pace with the victorious team.

"You've got to focus on the next thing ahead. You can sulk for a couple of minutes about the loss, but you've got to get right back into it," Simmons said. "It's an opportunity for us to get (Texas A&M) back. We're still in a good position right now."

Simmons, averaging 19.4 points and an SEC-best 12.1 rebounds, had a more typical scoring performance against South Carolina with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The Tigers' other top freshman, Antonio Blakeney, had a team-best 22 after scoring a career-high 31 in an 88-77 victory against Mississippi State last Saturday.

Blakeney was averaging 9.5 points in his first 22 collegiate games and had seven at Texas A&M.

The Tigers, 12-2 at home and 5-0 in the SEC, will seek to end a three-game overall skid to the Aggies. Texas A&M earned its second win in 14 trips to Baton Rouge on Jan. 17, 2015, with a 67-64 victory.

Jones and Danuel House each had 18 points in that game. House, the Aggies' second-leading scorer (15.6 ppg), was held to a season-low five points against LSU last month, but contributed 10 rebounds and six assists.

Davis has totaled 19 points in his last three games while Jones had 21 against Alabama, his most in eight contests.

The Aggies haven't lost four straight in SEC play since a five-game skid Jan. 18-Feb. 1, 2014.

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