By Kane McGuire/Louisiana Tech Athletics:
RUSTON – Up three with 15 seconds left, Derric Jean had a chance to extend the lead for Louisiana Tech at the free throw line, but he missed both.
The senior redeemed himself though on the defensive end, coming up with a block on a potential game-tying three-point attempt to help seal the 60-57 win for Louisiana Tech over FIU on Thursday night inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.
With the victory, LA Tech (18-7, 9-4 C-USA) improved its home record to 12-1 this season and guaranteed itself a spot in the top pod with bonus play right around the corner.
“I thought it was two good Conference USA teams really battling it out,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “Coach Ballard does such a good job with FIU. It was a game on paper that you think it is going to be a track meet with lots of threes and turnovers. It really turned into a half-court, grind-it-out game.
“This was the type of win we needed, when we can find a way even if we don’t shoot it well. We were able to take care of the basketball and make just enough plays to get a very good win.”
The missed chances on offense and the block at the end were a microcosm of the entire game.
LA Tech shot 38 percent from the field, making only four threes. But, the Bulldogs won the turnover margin (+4) and the rebounding margin (+3) while holding a potent FIU (17-9, 8-5 C-USA) offense to under 60 points, something opponents have now done just three times against them this season.
“I thought our teams focus in practice was great,” said Konkol. “As you come off a tough loss, you do some soul searching. And we did that. Our focus level for what we needed to do in this game was at a high level.”
It certainly didn’t appear like that defensive performance was going happen early in the game because of FIU’s offensive burst right out of the gates. The Panthers made eight of their first 10 field goals to help go on a 17-0 run and grab a 21-12 advantage with 11:25 remaining in the first half.
The ‘Dogs countered with a 15-2 run of their own, getting points from seven different players to go up 27-23 lead with six minutes to play until halftime.
It was a two-possession game for the remainder of the contest. After Amorie Archibald sank two free throws following a technical foul called on FIU’s Osasumwen Osaghae, LA Tech maintained possession and he connected on a driving layup to give the home team a 49-43 edge with 8:45 to go.
FIU closed the gap and even took a two-point lead thanks to a series of four made three-pointers (only had six the entire game). But down the stretch, LA Tech made three shots and got enough defensive stops, highlighted by Jean’s rejection, to get back into the win column after dropping two last week.
“People try to tell me to have a short-term memory but I don’t,” said Jean who also had three of the team’s eight steals. “I missed two free throws and I immediately thought that I’ve got to get this back for my team if it was in my power to do so. I was able to come up with the block. I read what he was trying to do and got a good jump on it.”
Only two Bulldogs cracked double figures, led by Archibald who had 17 while making three of the team’s four three-pointers. Mubarak Muhammed was the other with 10 points.
FIU also had two players score double-digit points with Devon Andrews registering a game-high 22.
LA Tech will play its final conference game before bonus play on Saturday, Feb. 15 versus Florida Atlantic. The four seniors will be honored prior to tipoff at 2 p.m. as part of senior day.
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