FRISCO, Texas – In March, the saying goes ‘Survive and Advance.’ That is exactly what Louisiana Tech did on Wednesday night.
With the help of the LA Tech fan base inside the Star, the Bulldogs survived a 16-point deficit early in the second half to ultimately advance to the C-USA Tournament Quarterfinals with a nail-biting 57-56 victory over Florida Atlantic.
LA Tech (20-12) led for just 35 seconds in the entire game, but it was at the most important time – the end of the 40-minute slugfest in what was the third meeting versus FAU (17-15) this season.
“It was a tale of two halves for us,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “I wasn’t happy with the first half. We didn’t play as aggressively as we needed to. Florida Atlantic came out and played very hard and were sharp on offense to start.
“The second half, that changed for us. The aggressiveness of our team changed, led by DaQuan Bracey. He’s one of the fantastic guards in this league. He really competed. You don’t have to be ahead by much or for very long, but we were able to come out in the end.”
FAU shot 48 percent from the field in the first stanza while LA Tech was shooting just a 27 percent clip. The Owls went up by 14 on two different occasions, including the very end of the half as Xavian Stapleton banked in a three-pointer to give his team a 34-20 advantage at the midway point (it was three of his 14 first-half points).
The Owls scored the first bucket of the second half to build its largest lead at 16. And that’s when the run happened for the Bulldogs.
LA Tech would go on a 17-1 run over the next eight-plus minutes of action, tying it up at 37-37 with 11:14 remaining as Anthony Duruji connected on his second three-pointer during the stretch.
The Bulldogs could not grab their first lead of the game after that though and ended up finding themselves down seven (50-43) as the Owls did what they do best and that is convert from the foul line (made six in a row to build the new lead).
Ra’Shawn Langston hit a huge three-pointer for LA Tech on the follow possession. Then with 2:19 to go, Amorie Archibald made a tough layup in the lane to score his fifth straight point and put the ‘Dogs up for the very first time at 53-52.
FAU’s Stapleton countered with a three-pointer to put the Owls back up two. But Bracey played like an all-conference player the entire night, showcasing that talent with 58 seconds left when he intercepted a pass and took it on the fastbreak for the layup.
“We didn’t want to go home and we just kept thinking that in the second half,” Bracey said.
Archibald pulled down a defensive rebound and then connected on two big free throws to break the tie and give the Bulldogs a slim 57-55 advantage with 11 seconds to go.
The Owls had a chance to send it to overtime, but Karlis Silins missed his only free throw of the night after making his first five, including the one prior. Then they had a chance to win it, but Stapleton’s tip-in off the missed FT rimmed out.
Bracey finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with a career-high nine rebounds. Duruji added 14 points, seven boards and two blocks. Archibald tallied 11 points.
It marked the largest comeback of the season for the ‘Dogs and the largest since 2004.
LA Tech will now face off against top-seeded Old Dominion on Thursday night at 6 p.m. CT.
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