RUSTON – The Louisiana Tech track and field team is hosting a meet this weekend in Ruston, but there was a track meet that took place in the Thomas Assembly Center on Wednesday night.
LA Tech and Iona were at full sprint for much of the game and the Bulldogs found themselves down one with 12 seconds to go.
Deciding not to call a timeout, Kenneth Smith drove down and dished the ball off to Alex Hamilton who took a 12-foot jumper from the baseline that did not go.
However, Speedy crashed the boards and got the putback layup to fall with less than three seconds on the clock. A late desperation attempt by the Gaels rimmed out giving LA Tech an 89-88 victory to advance to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The crowd of 4,623 fans erupted in celebration after enduring a back-and-forth battle that saw the score tied up eight times and the lead change 14 times.
“We have played some really good offensive teams this year – including Oklahoma – and that was the best offensive team we have played this season,” said head coach Michael White. “They make hard shots look easy. We never really got into a great defensive rhythm.
“It was a very good win for us. We played with some poise down the stretch. We got just a few stops that we were fortunate enough to get. I was very proud of our physical effort down the stretch because I know we were tired as fast as both teams were playing.”
Six different Bulldogs finished with at least 12 points, led by Jaron Johnson and Kenyon McNeail who each had 15.
LA Tech (28-7) found itself down by as many as five, 81-76, with 5:52 to go in the game, but a layup by Alex Hamilton and then a steal by Speedy led to a game-tying three from J. Johnson.
The Bulldogs capped the 7-0 run to retake the lead on a backdoor cut up the baseline by Hamilton who flushed home the two-handed slam which forced an Iona (22-11) timeout.
The Gaels eighth three-pointer of the contest switched the lead back to the opposition less than a minute later. The two teams traded empty possessions before a Michale Kyser block on a three-point attempt from Iona’s Sean Armand at the top of the key turned into a layup by Speedy.
Iona reclaimed the one-point advantage twice in the final 70 seconds from the free throw line, making both on two trips to have an 88-87 edge before Speedy hit the game-winner.
“I just crashed the board and it came our way,” Smith said of the final play. “Luckily we were able to win this game.”
LA Tech ended up taking a season-high 77 shot attempts on the night and converted on 35 of them. In the process, Chris Anderson notched his third career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Smith ended the game with 14 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals.
Iona had four players in double figures led by Laura who finished with 21 points and 16 boards. A.J. English matched his effort by scoring 21 as well, 19 of which came in the first half.
LA Tech got a three from Chris Anderson on the wing and then an alley-oop from Alex Hamilton to Kyser which forced an early Iona timeout with a 10-2 lead.
Iona used an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the game, 48-46, on a layup by David Laury.
A running jumper from Cordarius Johnson was able to tie the game up at 48-all going into halftime.
LA Tech will now head to Athens, Ga. to face the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, March 22 at 10 a.m. CT. The contest will be televised on ESPN.
Head coach Michael White
“Let me just say Iona is absolutely terrific. I told this to our local media yesterday. We played some very good teams this year. Oklahoma is one that I think is unbelievable offensively. I thought on film this would be the best offensive team we would face this season. They just proved that. They are fantastic in every facet offensively. The way they handle the ball, their team passing ability, their poise and they shoot the blood out of it. They make hard shots look easy. We never really got into a great defensive rhythm. That is what this team has hung their hat on. I think KenPom.com we are top 25 in the country in defensive efficiency and Iona made us look silly several times. It was a very good win for us. We played with some poise down the stretch. We got just a few stops that we were fortunate enough to get. I was very proud of our physical effort down the stretch because I know we were tired as fast as both teams were playing. I am very proud of these guys obviously and for our four seniors to go out and continue to go out the right way, whether that was our last one at home or not.”
On Final Play/ No Called Timeout:
“When Laury was stepping to the foul line, I made eye contact with my right hand guy here [Smith] and told him ‘Let’s get a great push here’ and if their defense was to get set we had two to call. I know I am not smart enough to be more productive than Speedy Smith in the open floor. Luckily we got a good high ball screen set by Michale Kyser and then we sent all five to the glass. Speedy had a huge tip in and I thought he had poise enough to stay in front of the ball as they tried to get a quick push. They actually got a pretty good look that was close. I cannot say enough about their guard play, unbelievable, they have really good guards. We have tremendous guards as well.”
On Iona’s Laury:
“He was pretty good, 21 points and 16 rebounds is not bad, and he is a load. He is so different, as he is not a prototypical big. He is like a combo guard at 250 pounds. He is fun to watch. I loved watching these guys on film. He is just a tough cover. We thought we would have an advantage by pressuring him more and so going into the game we wanted to switch one through five. Although he does not look like a deer the way he runs the floor, his first step is very quick. He got by guards, bigs, it did not matter. He scored against our guards and our bigs. He is good on the offensive glass. He has a great feel and tremendous hands. He moves his feet very well defensively too. We thought we would have better success dragging him into ball screen action. He is a really good player. I was impressed with Bowman, what an unbelievably quick release he has. They all shoot it. Armand is tremendous, but A.J. English is as good a guard as we have played all year. I am not sure that he is that good every night but I know that A.J. English tonight is probably the best guard we have played all year.”
“Our people on campus and in Ruston, some of them are probably familiar with the prestige of their program, but most of the people around here I would have guessed would not be familiar with Iona compared to an Arkansas or an ACC school. We strive to be where Iona is. Every year around this time they are in the NCAA Tournament or in the NIT. They have it going. This was a really good program win for us. We did not just beat anybody; we beat a really good program.”
On the box score:
“I thought we had pretty even scoring with six guys scoring 12 or more. When you look at the turnover to assist ratio for Iona, 20 to 12, that has not happened to us much this year. They got us right out of the press. We could not even set our press. They were beating our half court man down the floor as well. They are good defensively. They are good in all areas, which is why they are in the post season every year. They are elite offensively.”
On the pace of play:
“I thought both teams looked winded at times. That is what they do and that is what we do. We look like that at times in most games. A lot of that has to do with time and score and who has made a run. Your mentality has a lot to do with it. When we went on a 5-0 or 7-0 run, we looked pretty fresh. When Iona was beating us up and down the floor for layups, we looked pretty beat up. That is just part of basketball I think.”
“We thought we would have a struggle in the half court, but we thought we would be able to set our half-court defense a little bit more. This was the first game this season that we did not start in zone press off of makes, because we wanted to establish a defensive rhythm in the half court. We never really seemed able to do that until midway through the second half. At that time, I thought Iona stepped up and got some stops as well. It became not a defensive game, but probably more towards the middle with less of the offensive shoot out that it was in the first 30 minutes. They are tremendous getting out quick and pushing it down our throats off makes and issues. I did not expect them to come in and have success pressing us and they did. Their guards are very quick and everyone that they play has quick hands, it caused a lot of disruption. Even with Speedy and Alex, some of the better ball handlers I have been around all year, these guys really crawled up into us. They showed a lot of prowess defensively with their pressure.”
On Michale Kyser:
“Mike’s gift is his speed and beating defenders to ball screens. He has to be a deer in transition because if it is a wrestling match, he is going to lose a lot of those. He lost some of those wrestling matches to Laury, so he just has to continue running the floor for us. That is what he is really good at.”
On the last play:
“I just crashed the board and the ball was able to come my way luckily. We were just able to win the game.”
On the crowd:
“They were amazing tonight. I do not want to say the best crowd that we have had, but they were a big factor. I knew they were going to be important down the stretch. When you are on the road and that crowd is getting to you, it is hard to run plays. I thought our fans were a big factor in tonight’s win.”
On the last few minutes of the game:
“We were just grinding it out and trying to box out every play we can. We just wanted to win. We kept telling each other that we were not done yet.”
“I think their guards were pretty good. It was a tough task for us but I think we did just a good enough job to get a win.”
On his mindset when Alex shot the ball:
“Wherever the ball was going to bounce, I was just going to try and get it. You never know where it is coming. God put it in my hands to make the shot.”
On hugging Raheem Appleby after the game:
“I just told him we were not done yet. He was kind of running from me, he did not want to hit his ankle. I had to chase him and tell him we were not done yet.”
On playing more aggressive offensively:
“It is nothing new for me, just trying to find my spots where I can find them and knock them down. I like passing Kenyon the ball so he can make a three.”
On pulling the game out like this after Tulsa:
“I think just for us to come back home, regroup and play in front of our fans was big. Our fans gave us confidence and energy to come out, let the ball fly and hard on defense.”
On Iona being the best offensive team they have played:
“I think so, just with the way they shoot the ball. They hit a lot of crazy three’s.”