By: Kane McGuire (Louisiana Tech Athletics)
FRISCO, Tx (Louisiana Tech Athletics) – Head coach Eric Konkol called a timeout just 92 seconds into the NIT semifinal matchup with his team quickly down 8-0.
Unfortunately, Louisiana Tech was never able to overcome the slow start as they fell to hot-shooting Mississippi State by a final score of 84-62 on Saturday afternoon inside the Comerica Center.
Not much went LA Tech’s (23-8) way. Offensively, they shot just 37.7 percent from the field and managed to hit only seven three-pointers out of 26 attempts.
But, it was on the defensive end that was very uncharacteristic. Some of that was on Tech. Quite a bit was due to MSU (18-14) being extremely efficient, going 55.8 percent from the field and making a rare 10 triples.
“We played a very good team today in Mississippi State and that team played extremely well,” said Konkol. “They started out making threes, and they made some difficult shots. We were playing from behind from the very beginning.
“I thought our team exerted a lot of effort to try to get back in it. We just had a very difficult time stopping them. On the other end, we did not shoot the ball well when we had opportunities.”
D.J. Stewart, Jr. came firing out of the games early for MSU, hitting his first five shots (four of which were triples) to give the visitors an early 17-5 advantage.
LA Tech’s deficit hung around the 9-12 range for the remainder of the first half. Cobe Williams sank his second three of the afternoon to make it a 29-38 ball game with 1:19 remaining in the stanza. However, MSU’s Derek Fountain buried the team’s sixth three-pointer of the half to put Tech down, 29-41, at the break.
The defense for Tech stepped up to start the second half, allowing just one made field goal through the first media timeout. They were only able to make a small chip into the deficit though, down 34-43.
MSU got right back into an offensive rhythm soon thereafter, going on an 11-0 run thanks to back-to-back-to-back threes by Iverson Molinar to put Tech in a big hole, down 20.
The biggest run of the night for the Bulldogs from Ruston came right after, scoring seven straight points in the span of 38 seconds – four from Kenneth Lofton, Jr. and a three from Kalob Ledoux – to trail, 41-54, with still 12:37 to go.
However, that was as close as LA Tech would get. MSU, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, started to enforce its will on the glass, getting seven offensive boards the rest of the way and turning those into 10 second-chance points.
“This result is not what we wanted,” said Lofton, Jr. “We did not play our best defense. We did not rebound the basketball well.”
Lofton, Jr. led the team in several categories, including points (20), rebounds (10), steals (four) and blocks (three). It was his eighth double-double of the season. Ledoux and Jacolby Pemberton were the other two who had double-digit points with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Molinar and Stewart, Jr. combined for 48 points and were 9-of-13 from beyond the arc.
With the loss, LA Tech will face Colorado State in the consolation game on Sunday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. CT on ESPN.
“We were looking forward to playing in the championship,” said Lofton, Jr. “Playing for third place, it is another opportunity to play, try to finish off the season with a win. End the season on a good note.”