By: Kane McGuire (Louisiana Tech Athletics)
RUSTON, La – Everyone in the Thomas Assembly Center on Saturday afternoon celebrated the collegiate careers of six senior Bulldogs during a pregame ceremony.
Then everyone celebrated after the game as Louisiana Tech closed out the regular season with a 79-58 victory over Rice on Karl Malone Court.
LA Tech (19-6, 12-4 C-USA), who has won 11 of its last 13, only made nine-three pointers as opposed to a program-tying 17 the night before. The defensive performance was the same though, limiting an explosive Rice (12-12, 6-10 C-USA) squad to 34 percent shooting while racking up 10 steals again.
“The concern always with a quick turnaround is the type of energy you need to produce,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “We played well last night with a lot of enthusiasm and energy against a good Rice team who is so explosively offensively.
“From the senior ceremony in the beginning to getting into the groove of the game, I thought we were lethargic early. Once the guys got settled into the game and really locked in defensively, I thought that ignited our offense and we just started playing better basketball throughout.”
The Bulldogs were not able to jump on the Owls early like in game one. Aside from Isaiah Crawford getting off to a hot start with making the first seven points for the team, Rice went on to build a 21-15 lead with 8:15 to play in the first half.
Then the home team got into a groove, turning great defense into great offense. The ‘Dogs forced seven turnovers during the remainder of the stanza, closing things out on a 25-6 run to take a 40-27 advantage into halftime.
Igniting that offense was Kalob Ledoux and Kenneth Lofton, Jr. who combined to score 16 of the team’s 25 points during that late push.
Rice would not go away though. Quincy Olivari (finished with a team-high 16 points) scored the first eight points to start the second half, which forced a timeout by LA Tech as the lead shrunk to 40-35.
After the lead got back to double-digits, the Owls’ Riley Abercrombie got loose for back-to-back threes to trim the deficit down to 55-51 with 10:10 still to go in the game.
It was the defense sparking the offense again as LA Tech allowed Rice to make only three field goals the rest of the way. Offensively, Ledoux and Lofton, Jr. combined for all 11 points during an 11-0 run that put the game out of reach.
“We are built on playing tenacious defense,” said Konkol. “We had to do it a couple of different ways tonight. Each three Rice makes, it feels like two or three because that is what springboards them into those runs. We saw that in the first half and the beginning of the second half. We were tested. Our guys put forth a great effort tonight.”
Both Ledoux and Lofton, Jr. finished with a game-high 17 points. Crawford added 14 points and a team-high nine boards and Amorie Archibald registered 10 points.
“It was a special day,” added Konkol when asked about his six seniors. “We spend so much time together. In sports, you go through some incredible highs and some tough losses. You go through a lot of things together. It really is a family.
These six seniors, I am so appreciative of. We have grown together from my early years as a head coach to now. I appreciate each of them so much for their commitment to Louisiana Tech basketball, to this University, to this community and, most importantly, to one another. They are a special group.”
There is the potential for another game to be added to the schedule. If not, LA Tech will next play in the C-USA Tournament, which gets underway on March 9 in Frisco, Texas at The Star.