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Young Core Earn Time To Shine in LSU Basketball Win Over Texas A&M

LSU sees growth from young core talent in closing out important game with veterans out of the game

It's a point LSU coach Will Wade has tried to hammer home through all of the success and all of the rough patches this 2021 team has experienced. 

In the win over Texas A&M, it wasn't the veterans who were called upon but the young, emerging players on this roster who had their moment to shine. And many came up clutch for the purple and gold in order to snap a three game losing streak. 

This team entered Wednesday's contest down two of its best players in Darius Days and Xavier Pinson for the first time all season, causing some significant lineup changes. Throw in the fact that LSU forward Tari Eason, who earned his first start of the season, was lost at nearly the midway point of the second half in a tight ball game and there wasn't much sense the Tigers would be able to pull this one out. 

But Shareef O'Neal hit a three. Justice Williams drilled a floater from the right corner. Alex Fudge threw down and emphatic dunk. Mwani Wilkinson connected on a game tying three. And the two pillars of the entire night, Eric Gaines and Brandon Murray, came up with play after play down the stretch to help LSU close on a 13-2 run and win the game. 

It was the kind of late game effort from the young cornerstones of this roster that Wade and the LSU fanbase had been waiting for, with all playing roles in picking up a much needed bounce back performance after the recent struggles. 

"Eric Gaines played his best game here. He was phenomenal, just tremendous. I am just proud of our guys," Wade said. "Shareef made some big plays for us. Brandon Murray, he is just a warrior.”

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Gaines finished with 16 points, six rebounds, four steals and no turnovers while Murray led the way scoring with 21 points and O'Neal added seven more off the bench. It was a game that Gaines said afterward the Tigers couldn't afford to lose at home and was really proud of the effort the team gave down the stretch.

"We did have three starters down but it's the next man up," Gaines said. "You gotta fight through adversity. We made good plays at the end and got the win.

"We knew it was gonna be a dog fight, they play really hard, really aggressive so we were just doing what we had to," Murray added. 

This is a young core that certainly took a step in the right direction and another game they can all look back on as solid framework for what the future of the program could look like.

Eason had cramps that kept him out for most of the second half so he should be fine for Saturday's game against TCU. But Wade was less optimistic about Pinson and Days being ready, which is another sign that this group will be heavily relied on in a couple of days as well. 

It'll be a quick turnaround facing another team that Wade says is really good at attacking the offensive glass so it'll be important for LSU to match the physicality for a morning tip off.

"We're gonna have to keep battling with whoever's healthy," Wade said. "He got to turn around and play really quickly and so we're gonna need everyone to be ready."