Men’s college basketball: Late defensive stops carry Tech to 14th win

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By Kane McGuire, Louisiana Tech Assistant Athletic Director/Athletic Communications 

RUSTON – Trailing with 10 minutes to go in the game, Louisiana Tech strung together a long series of defensive stops and got two late free throws by Amorie Archibald to help grind out a 65-62 victory over Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

LA Tech (14-5, 7-3 C-USA) was having trouble stopping USM (7-10, 3-7 C-USA) on offense through 30 minutes of basketball.  As a result, the Golden Eagles were up 54-49 while shooting 51 percent from the field with 9:42 left to go.

Then the defense for the Bulldogs found another gear.  They limited the opposition to just one made field goal in their final 13 shot attempts.  The two biggest stops came in the final seconds, forcing a miss on a potential game-winning floater and having a half-court desperation shot fall short that could have sent it into overtime.

“It was about the defensive end for us,” head coach Eric Konkol said.  “We had a hard time scoring today.  We missed free throws, we turned the basketball over, especially in the first half.  We did a better job taking care of it in the second half, but we needed all the stops we could get. 

“Southern Miss was playing really efficient offense.  They are good at mid-range basketball and getting the ball to certain spots.  I felt like we were a step slow in moments.  Our stops were absolutely required to come away with this victory today.”

LA Tech was up 24-15 at the 7:39 mark in the first half after a three-point play by Kenneth Lofton, Jr. and seemed poised to extend its lead even further.  Cobe Williams went down with an injury at midcourt soon thereafter and the Golden Eagles found an offensive flow, battling back behind their leading scorer Tyler Stevenson.

The game was close to being knotted up at halftime just like Thursday, but two late free throws by Exavian Christon after his third steal provided the Bulldogs a 32-30 halftime edge.

That did not deter USM.  They continued to put up points, going on a 10-0 run to go up 44-37 when Artur Konontsuk buried his third triple.  The largest lead by the visitor forced a timeout by coach Konkol.

Amorie Archibald and JaColby Pemberton countered with two threes to put the ‘Dogs back on top, but it was a brief one-point lead that got erased by Stevenson who scored six straight points, giving the Golden Eagles their 54-49 advantage.

Williams returned to the court a few minutes into the second half and provided the spark to get LA Tech back out in front.  The point guard scored seven of the team’s next 10 points, making it a 59-54 contest with 4:45 remaining. 

“I give a lot of credit to Cobe for his resolve in fighting through his injury,” said Konkol.  “He was not comfortable in the second half and our trainer, TJ Thurmond Jr., was very proactive in finding a way to treat and make Cobe feel as comfortable as possible.  Without that, the result of the game might have gone the other direction.  He played a big second half for us.”

The lead was still five with 2:42 to go, but USM’s LaDavius Draine sank a free throw and Tae Hardy converted a three-point play to slice the deficit down to one.  And it was Hardy who had a potential game-winning floater roll off the rim at the five-second mark. 

Pemberton pulled down his team-leading seventh rebound and got the ball into the hands of Archibald who calmly drilled two free throws. 

“Southern Miss came in with a chip on its shoulder,” said Archibald who finished with a team-high 15 points.  “They played hard, they attacked the glass.  We knew it was going to be a tough game.  Those last 10 minutes, we had to dial in, play together and get it done.  Those free throws were huge.  My teammates believed in me and I knocked them down.”

LA Tech shot 42.6 percent from the field (23-54), 27.3 percent from deep (6-22) and 61.9 percent from the foul line (13-21).  Lofton, Jr. notched 14 points, the fifth straight game in double figures, and Isaiah Crawford posted 11 points for his team-leading 13th game with double-digit scoring.

Stevenson led all scorers with 20 points for Southern Miss. 

LA Tech heads back out on the road next weekend to face North Texas in Denton.  Game one of the two-game series is set for Friday, Feb. 5 with tipoff at 7 p.m. on Stadium.

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— Featured photo by Tom Morris