RUSTON – It was another heartbreaker of a finish for Louisiana Tech as UTSA hit a contested floater in traffic with one second left that downed the Bulldogs, 78-76, on Thursday night inside the Thomas Assembly Center.
LA Tech (9-7, 0-3 C-USA) came into the game needing to take care of the basketball. They did that, turning the ball over just eight times.
They also needed to guard beyond the arc as UTSA (9-7, 2-1 C-USA) came in as the best three-point shooting team in the league. They did that as well, allowing the Roadrunners to shoot a meager 6-of-26 from deep.
In the end though, it was the defending the paint that hurt the Bulldogs, including the game-winning shot. The Roadrunners went 25-of-41 from two for 61 percent, totaling 38 points in the paint.
“Limiting turnovers and defending the three were the two biggest keys watching UTSA,” head coach Eric Konkol said. “The paint is where they hurt us. Fourteen offensive rebounds – they shot a great percentage in the paint right by the rim. That was really the key to the game and something we have got to get better at.
“I think offensively, we’re doing just fine. We normally shoot a little better percentage from three, but the offense tonight was the least of our concerns. It was how we protected the paint and the offensive rebounds that they were getting, because they got second and third chances at the rim.”
LA Tech jumped on UTSA around the 12-minute mark in the first half. The score was 14-14 when guard DaQuan Bracey subbed into the game (was questionable to play due to a back injury).
After guard Jacobi Boykins hit is second three-pointer of the night, Bracey drained two in a row to give the Bulldogs a 23-14 edge with 11:21 to play.
The Roadrunners later countered with a 10-0 run to snatch the lead at 28-26 over the next three minutes of action. The built as much as a five-point lead, but the ‘Dogs sliced the deficit down to one going into halftime at 37-36.
LA Tech was very aggressive the opening five minutes of the second half, pulling down seven offensive rebounds and pulling ahead by five.
They ended up matching their largest lead at 58-49 with 11:14 to play. The Roadrunners countered, again. UTSA found its rhythm offensively, going on a 23-8 run, to gain its largest lead of the gain at 72-66 with just 2:24 left.
Down four with 26 seconds remaining, Boykins came up big by hitting a corner three-pointer to get to within one (the team made six of their first 10, but went 2-of-15 from deep the rest of the way).
After a near steal by Exavian Christon, he ended up fouling UTSA’s Byron Frohnen who made both free throws to pull ahead by three. It was Boykins to the rescue again though, making all three free throws after getting fouled on a three-point attempt.
With the game tied at 76-76, Giovanni De Nicolao broke the heart of LA Tech fans for a second straight year as he hit the game-winner just like last season in the TAC.
LA Tech went 28-of-65 from the field for 43 percent and 8-of-25 from three for 32 percent. Boykins was 7-of-12 from the field, including three-pointers, to finish with a season-high and game-high 24 points.
Guard Amorie Archibald, getting his first career start in place of Bracey, was the only other Bulldog in double figures with a career-high 10 points.
Bracey played 27 minutes off the bench, registering nine points and a season-high nine assists. Center Joniah White also had a near double-double with eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.
UTSA shot 46 percent from the field (31-67), making just six three-pointers (averaged 11 makes per game). They had three players in double figures, led by guard Jhivvan Jackson who had 21 despite fouling out.
LA Tech returns to action on Saturday, Jan. 5 when they play host to UTEP. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.
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