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Men’s college basketball: Tech gets season sweep of Rice

Louisiana Tech Athletic Communications

RUSTON — Louisiana Tech saw its 24-point lead vanish against Rice, but the Bulldogs made winning plays down the stretch to pick up an 80-72 victory over the Owls on Thursday night inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

For the third straight season, LA Tech (13-10, 6-6 C-USA) managed to sweep Rice (15-7, 6-5 C-USA). The matchup a month ago was a wild one with the Bulldogs winning in overtime. This one also had plenty of craziness.

The Bulldogs, who were playing without their third leading scorer in Keaston Willis, were hotter than hot in the first half, making their first eight shot attempts. The last three of those were from long range as Kaleb Stewart went back-to-back-to-back from downtown to give LA Tech a 20-8 advantage.

Then it was Dravon Mangum’s turn for a three-peater from deep, pushing the lead out to 31-11. Two more by Stewart, and then a triple by Cobe Williams (the 10th three-pointer of the half for the ‘Dogs), made it 44-20 with 3:43 still remaining in the first half.

Rice, who came in ranked top 20 in the country in effective field goal percentage while averaging almost 80 points a game, was bound to make a run. And that run started at the end of the first stanza with eight straight points to make it 44-28 at halftime.

The run carried over into the second half behind the play of Max Fielder who dropped a game-high 23 points, including a stretch of making 13 of the Owls 18 points.

LA Tech’s lead shrunk, and shrunk, and shrunk, until it completely disappeared when Rice took its first lead of the game at 55-54 with 10:34 still to go in the game.  Jordan Crawford got in on the scoring action from deep, drilling back-to-back triples (the only two made by the Bulldogs in the second half) to quickly erase that one-point deficit. 

Rice punched back though, using another 8-0 run to take a two-point edge at the 5:45 marker after Quincy Olivari’s three-pointer. That would be the Owls last made field goal of the game though as the Bulldogs forced them into six missed field goals down the stretch.

It was a free throw shooting contest for much of the final five minutes. The game was tied up for a fourth time at 72-all with 1:12 to play until Isaiah Crawford made a bounce pass to Kenny Hunter who got the layup to go in traffic to make it 74-72. 

LA Tech sealed the game on the defensive end, getting a third steal from Crawford and then Dravon Mangum drawing an offensive foul.  Cobe Williams, who totaled a team-high 20 points, knocked down six straight free throws for good measure.

He was one of four Bulldogs in double figures, including Stewart (career-high 17), Mangum (15), and Crawford (14). LA Tech shot 46.6 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from deep, and 87.5 percent from the foul line.

Rice’s offensive output in the second half helped them shoot 46.4 percent from the field. Travis Evee added 14 points while Olivari, who came in as the league’s top scorer, posted 13.

Head coach Talvin Hester

“I am really proud of our guys. I told them before the game that we were going to win it on the defensive end of the floor. It is very hard to hold a team down like that for two halves. They are the best offensive team in our league and we knew they were going to make a run. We weathered the storm and got the win. We won it on defensive plays down the stretch.  Dravon Mangum took a charge and that was the happiest I was.”

Kaleb Stewart has had two unbelievable weeks of practice. You earn playing time how you practice. It does not just happen. He had a good game against UTSA last Saturday and then had another great week of practice. He started right back where he left off.”

Forward Isaiah Crawford

“We were able to get stops at the end of the game, which ended up being the difference. We wanted to stay solid and try to not let them shoot threes. We were able to get to the paint and kick it out and make threes. This gives us more confidence, being able to close out games.”

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