Seniors Lead Way in Clinching Outright C-USA Title
March 5, 2015
RUSTON - For the three seniors, tears were held back during the pregame ceremony but it was nothing but smiles after the game.
Michale Kyser recorded a double-double, Kenneth Smith had 10 assists and Raheem Appleby scored a team-high 23 points to lead Louisiana Tech to a 72-61 victory over Southern Miss to clinch the outright Conference USA regular season title on Thursday night in front of 5,805 fans in the Thomas Assembly Center.
After sharing the conference title the past two years, LA Tech (24-7, 15-3 C-USA) was able to celebrate as sole champions and the wrapping up of the No. 1 seed in the league tournament on its home floor in what was its 29th straight victory in the TAC.
The trio of seniors also celebrated the fact that they became the winningest Bulldogs in program history and what a performance it was by all three.
Kyser recorded season-highs in points (19) and rebounds (14), Speedy dished at double-digit assists for the ninth time this season and Appleby surpassed two Bulldog legends - Paul Millsap and Karl Malone - on the all-time career scoring list.
"It is fitting for these guys to have this opportunity and have this party," head coach Michael White said. "They accomplished so much and they are great young men who have done so much for our program. I do not want to say that it is fitting that we won the championship outright, because it is a heck of a league, but because we had the opportunity to win it outright, it felt perfect on senior night."
The Bulldogs shot 27-of-61 (44 percent) from the field and only made six three-pointers out of 28 attempts, but it was their defense that carried them home. They wound up forcing 21 turnovers and scoring 28 points off of the turnovers.
Both teams traded runs in the first half, but it was the `Dogs who came out on top at the midway point, 26-24, thanks to two three-pointers by Jacobi Boykins and a breakaway dunk by Appleby to finish out the first stanza.
Southern Miss (9-20, 4-14 C-USA) was still weathering the storm four minutes into the second half, down 35-31 with 16:27 to play after a made jumper by Matt Bingaya, but then the storm turned into a category-5 hurricane.
After seven straight points by LA Tech, Appleby stole the ball at midcourt and then tossed an alley-oop pass to Xavian Stapleton who shook the building with his one-handed slam.
On the following possession, Speedy came up with the steal and passed it to a wide open Appleby who nailed the three-pointer from the wing to go on what was a 7-0 run that took just 25 seconds.
"They did what they do," White said about the seniors. "They played to their strengths. Over the past three or four weeks, Michale Kyser has been incredible. I thought Speedy did Speedy and Raheem made some hard shots. Raheem really put us on his back offensively."
The 14-point lead with 14:19 to go was safe as the Golden Eagles never got the deficit down to single digits the rest of the way.
"We knew we were playing a capable opponent," White said. "We had our hands full with Southern Miss. I thought they were terrific with their preparation. Doc has done a great job holding it together all year through their adversity. We kept our minds set on the task at hand. This is not our last game. We are eager to prepare for next week so we can do something in Birmingham."
Despite being in foul trouble all game and only playing 11 minutes, redshirt sophomore Erik McCree joined Kyser and Appleby in double figures with 10 points.
Southern Miss was led by Shadell Millinghaus who had a game-high 25 points, 22 of those coming in the second half. USM finished the game shooting 46 percent from the field (25-of-55).
For LA Tech, they will have to wait until Saturday night at the conclusion of all the league games to see who it will play the winner out of and at what time.
For all the latest in Bulldog Basketball, follow them on Twitter (@LATechHoops), Instagram (@LATechHoops) and Facebook (LATechMBB) or visit the official website at www.LATechSports.com.
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