By: Kane McGuire/Louisiana Tech Athletics
RUSTON – Just like three weeks ago, Louisiana Tech and FIU battled against one another inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.
And that battle went down to the wire again with the Bulldogs coming away with another three-point victory, taking it 76-73 on Wednesday night.
Despite turning it over 19 times (only had 12 in previous meeting) and allowing 18 offensive rebounds, LA Tech (21-8, 12-5 C-USA) leaned heavily on its bench who provided 30 points and made crucial free throws down the stretch to guarantee either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament.
“The way FIU plays leads you into some fast play,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “It is something we have been comfortable playing, but we did not take care of the basketball tonight. Give a lot of credit to FIU. They play with relentless tenacity for a full 40 minutes, playing with one of the fastest paces in the country.
“But, I thought our bench played really well. We had 10 guys play and each made contributions in some way. I’m proud of our team for that total team effort.”
The Bulldogs struck first with a run, putting together nine straight points to go up early at 16-6 with 13:25 to play and force a timeout by the Panthers.
FIU (18-12, 9-8 C-USA) cranked up the pressure and punched back, getting to within four. However, Amorie Archibald and Kalob Ledoux were able to keep them at bay by combining for 22 first-half points to help the ‘Dogs take a 38-29 edge into the locker room at halftime.
Archibald made a 12-foot jumper on the home team’s opening possession for their biggest lead of the game at 11 (40-29), but here came the Panthers again.
They scored seven straight points, all from forced turnovers, and would eventually take their first lead of the game after Eric Lovett buried a three-pointer from the wing to give the visitors a 53-51 advantage with 11:13 still to play.
DaQuan Bracey responded with a driving layup in the paint and made his only three that followed up the fourth triple from Ledoux to swing the momentum back in favor of LA Tech.
Still, FIU would not go away, getting to within one point at 61-60. But, the Bulldogs found the energy to put together an 8-0 run that was sparked by Cobe Williams who scored back-to-back buckets, one that was made over the nation’s leading shot blocker Osasumwen Osaghae.
“That was a big stretch,” said Konkol. “Cobe is a guy that we can really count on to have great energy. I can’t think of a day that he hasn’t come to practice, or whatever we are doing, and not have high energy. He is learning and getting better. In that that particular segment, they were pressuring us and we tried to spread the floor with four guards. There were some wild plays, but we’ve got guys like Cobe who can thrive in that style of play.”
LA Tech ended up making nine of its last 12 field goals, but still needed a block by Andrew Gordon to finish off FIU who could have gotten to within one point again with three seconds left, but Devon Andrews (after being fouled on a three-point attempt) missed his last two from the line.
After shooting 38 percent in the last meeting, the Bulldogs scorched the nets for 54 percent (27-of-50). They also went 16-of-20 from the free throw line. Archibald ended up with a game-high 18 points. Ledoux tacked on 16 points while Jean and Bracey scored 12 and 10, respectively.
FIU shot 42 percent (29-of-69) from the field and were anchored by Osaghae who notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards.
LA Tech will return to the TAC for its final regular season game to take on Charlotte. The matchup will take place on Saturday, March 7 at 6 p.m.
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