Tigers cruise past Texas A&M 68-49

The ball swung to the left wing, and the education of Jarell Martin was on display.

It’s a play not destined for a spliced up highlight reel.

The snippet may only draw praise from a coach in a dark film room pointing it out with the dot of a laser pointer.

Catching the ball just inside the arc, the LSU freshman set as if here were poised to elevate for a jumper – just like he had on the previous two trips – Texas A&M’s Antwan Space scrambled on a close out.

Preying on Space’s urgency, Martin drove into a crease and forced Kourtney Roberson to frantically slide over and cut off a path toward a likely dunk.

Instead, the Aggies forward picked up a blocking call, and Martin swished to free throws during a stretch where he tallied nine-straight points during a 13-2 run in a 68-49 victory Wednesday night.

“He’s really patient, and he’s shown that,” LSU coach Jones said. “You find a guy like that who’s making his shots and making plays, but he didn’t go shot hunting.”

Inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers (17-10, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) cut the profile of a squad capable of elbowing its way free from the seven-team cluster in the middle of the SEC standings.

In front of 7,689 fans, Martin, who tied a career high with 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, looks every bit the inside-outside threat toting McDonald’s All-American credentials.

A squad maligned for its defense clamped down to hold the Aggies (16-12, 7-8) to 30.8 percent shooting, including a 10-minute scoreless stretch in the first half as LSU went on a 21-0 run.

The question is whether putting the Aggies in a sleeper hold is nothing more than a tease.

But having Martin, who seems to have moved past his early growing pains, pulling off feats such as turninng a four-point margin into a 43-31 lead with 11:55 left to go would help.

“I had a lot of expectations and pressure on me when I came in,” Martin said. “I just wanted to prove to fans what I’m capable of. I realize I just have to go out there and have fun and let the game come to me.”

Left alone, he lofted a 3-pointer that splashed down to push the lead to 37-29, and a trip later, he was presented the same look when guard Anthony Hickey swung the ball back to the same left corner to Martin.

“Once you hit couple shots, it makes you dangerous,” said guard Andre Stringer, who chipped in 11 points off the bench. “Everybody wants to jump out on you, and the more you play, the longer you play, the more that experience level kicks in. You can see them coming out and angles that weren’t there before and make a play.”

But what’s changed is Martin’s feel for when to use his different skills — overcoming the frustration that came with picking up the position of small forward in the process.

“I can definitely take over the game when I want to,” Martin said. “I just need to be vocal out there, whenever my teammates are down or whenever I have a look.”

And if Martin can find a way to makeover his identity, so could LSU on the defensive end of the floor.

After getting strafed two weeks ago at Reed Arena, the Tigers scrapped their zone look to drape their size and length all over the Aggies in man-to-man.

Sure, the start was stilted, with the Aggies jumping out to a 15-7 lead, as the plodding Aggies bled the clock and slowed the pace to a crawl.

But the driving lines were soon clogged, forcing Texas A&M to settle for jumpers and unable to replicate the hot-shooting night they had in College Station in going just 4 of 17 from behind the 3-point arc.

“They’re really patient,” Jones said. “If you’re not there on the catch, they take advantage of you. We did a much better job pushing them off their spots.”

An O’Bryant layup with 12:45 left pulled LSU within 15-9, but also spurred a 21-0 run that was punctuated by Texas A&M clanking its next 11 shots from the floor.

“It’s frustrating,” Aggies guard Jordan Green, who had a team-high 12 points, said. “We started taking quick shots that were out of rhythm. That put pressure on the guys that started the game, because the guys that came off the bnch were taking illegitimate shots.”

And it didn’t help that Jamal Jones, who entered averaging 17.6 points the past six games, started the game missing for of his first five shots and finished with just seven points.

The run, though, didn’t end until Stringer took a cross-lane feed from O’Bryant, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, on the right block for an easy lay in off the glass to make it a 28-15 edge en route to a 30-24 halftime lead.

“We were able to stay in front of our guys,” forward Jordan Mickey said. “We helped in the right way and we limited them to one shot. The communication was definitely better.”

So much so that while Martin was putting on a refined display, the Aggies missed 14 of their first 16 shots to start the second half as the lead bulged to 22 with under a minute left.

Now, another challenge — visiting No. 1 Florida on Saturday — looms.

Before LSU, has sworn its ready for the rigors of that await at the O’Connell Center.

Martin and Co. certainly seem eager for the exam.

“We believe,” he said, “we’re ready.”