COLLEGE STATION (AP) – Texas A&M followed its big win at Kentucky with two straight losses, and the young team is trying to get back on track when it travels to LSU on Wednesday.
The Aggies need to string some wins together in Southeastern Conference play to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Second-year coach Billy Kennedy says that his goal every season is to make the tournament.
“It’s going to be difficult to do,” he said of reaching the tournament this year. “We’ve got to make up some ground. But my pressure is trying to get these guys to play the best that they could possibly play, and if they do that that’s going to give us opportunities.”
Texas A&M is trying to bounce back from last year’s 14-18 season that snapped a streak of six straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies fell apart in Big 12 play, going 4-14.
They’re 12-5 this season and have already won half the conference games they did last season. Texas A&M beat Arkansas and Kentucky to start their first season in the SEC and extend its winning streak to four games. They were then blown out by No. 8 Florida and lost by one point to Alabama.
“I think we’ve gotten better with establishing a style of play and having more definition about how we want to play,” Kennedy said of his team this year compared to last season. “We have some moments of great effort and enthusiasm, but we’re not where we need to be.”
Kennedy hopes the team, which has only three seniors, including one who is a former walk-on, can become more consistent.
“I preach constantly being consistent, not too high and not too low in how we do things,” Kennedy said. “We need to have that attitude.”
The Aggies are led by senior Elston Turner, who is averaging 16.1 points a game. He had a career-high 40 points to power A&M’s victory over Kentucky, but was limited to just four points against the Gators. Kennedy said Turner’s performance against Kentucky highlighted the need for other players to step up when teams focus on shutting him down.
“He’s going to have a lot of weight on his shoulders,” Kennedy said. “He does a good job of staying balanced and guards the other team’s best offensive player. He does so much for us we just have to get more production from the guys.”
Kennedy is looking for more from fellow senior Ray Turner to help ease some of the pressure on Elston Turner. Ray Turner is second on the team averaging 10.6 points, but has managed just 6.2 a game since conference play began.
“He hasn’t played well since league play started,” Kennedy said. “We have to figure out a way to get him to play better, because we’re limited with what we have. The guys that play significant minutes for us, especially as seniors, have got to be good for us to give us a chance to beat anybody in our league.”
The Aggies have been helped by the immediate contributions of freshman guards J’Mychal Reese and Alex Caruso. Reese has started all but one game for Texas A&M and is averaging 7.6 points a game. Caruso has appeared in each game with five starts and is averaging 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.
The pair have struggled with turnovers though, with Reese leading the team with 39 and Caruso tied for second with 32.
“Teams are going to come after them,” Kennedy said. “We knew this was going to happen, and now we’ve got to weather that storm and prove that we can be consistent in our play. I expect LSU to pressure those guys and especially get after J’Mychal.”
Texas A&M has had 31 turnovers combined in its last two losses, after combining for just 20 in its previous two wins. With that in mind, Kennedy’s focus this week has been to remind his team to “value the ball” and limit turnovers against LSU.
The Tigers are winless in SEC play, but Kennedy has lost both of his meetings with LSU, and the Aggies are 0-7 all-time in Baton Rouge.
Kennedy, who grew up in the area, expects to have between 25 and 50 friends and family at the game.
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