Jan. 17, 2013
RUSTON - After Kenyon McNeail had a career-night last Saturday in a win, Kenneth Smith had a career-effort of his own tonight with 22 points and four crucial steals as Louisiana Tech prevailed 72-66 over Idaho in the Thomas Assembly Center in front of a season-high crowd of 3,545.
The win propels LA Tech (15-3) to their seventh straight victory, the second such streak of the season, and their first ever 6-0 start in WAC play since joining the league in 2001.
Idaho (6-10) maintained the lead throughout the entire first half and well into the second until guard Raheem Appleby sank back-to-back three-pointers to give the Bulldogs a 39-38 advantage with 13:14 left in the contest.
The loss is their fourth straight with all four coming by less than seven points, dropping them to 2-4 in conference action.
Idaho pounced on the Bulldogs offensive struggles to open up a 12-2 lead six minutes into the game.
The `Dogs were down by as much as 11 and were 0-for-13 from beyond the arc until two three-pointers by Smith and McNeail cut it to a five-point deficit, 30-25, going into halftime.
"[Idaho] is really good defensively, in their man and in their zone," said head coach Michael White. "In their zone early, I thought we got good looks from behind the three-point line. They make you beat them with jump shots and they executed that. Unfortunately we couldn't make jump shots and so that zone got a little bit stronger.
"I thought we were lucky to be down by five at halftime. The overall message at halftime was to not allow our offense to dictate our defense. As much as we were struggling, we could not let up with our press and our pressure."
Smith and Appleby accounted for the team's first 21 points of the second half, but Idaho's Stephen Madison continued his tear of the paint to maintain a 53-46 edge in favor of the Vandals.
LA Tech regained the lead, 58-56, on a jumper by guard Brandon Gibson to cap an 8-0 run with 5:13 to go.
The lead would change hands again in Idaho's favor before McNeail carried over his hot-shooting from the UTSA game to drain back-to-back three-pointers to give the Bulldogs their largest lead to this point, 64-61, with two minutes still to play.
With just 37 seconds remaining, Smith forced three of the Vandals 23 turnovers over the next 22 seconds to seal the victory and keep the home team undefeated in the TAC this season.
Aside from the scoring, Smith excelled from the point guard position by racking up eight assists with only one turnover.
"It was his best game as a Bulldog," said White in reference to Smith. "To make shots and force steals and to be such a factor in our press was remarkable. He put on a show tonight and I'm happy for him. He's worked very hard and is a very good player."
The LA Tech bench continued their offensive contributions by outscoring Idaho's bench 31-4 as Appleby led the group with 20 points.
"If Raheem doesn't give us that emotional lift, I'm not sure we win the game," said White. "Defenses have really keyed in on him. He is probably a little bit worn out as a big scorer who gets so much attention. It seemed like he had a lot of bounce and energy tonight."
Idaho was led by Stephen Madison and Kyle Barone who scored 21 and 19 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs return to the court on Saturday, Jan. 19 when they take on Seattle University in a 7 p.m. contest in the Thomas Assembly Center.
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