March 25, 2013
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - As the final seconds ticked off the clock Monday night, Louisiana Tech saw its historic season come to an end with a 63-52 loss to Southern Mississippi before 5,952 fans at Reed Green Coliseum.
It was a year that saw the Bulldogs win 27 games, earn the program's first Top 25 ranking in more than 25 years and claim a share of the Western Athletic Conference title.
However, it was a night that saw head coach Mike White and Co. struggle to score against the Southern Miss zone defense as the Bulldogs hit only 35 percent (19-54) of its field goals, including just 4-of-22 from the three-point line. Meanwhile, the Eagles (27-9) made a living on the interior outscoring the Bulldogs 44-22 on points in the paint.
"We weren't able to (score consistently)," White said. "(Even they) didn't shoot it great from the outside. They outplayed us. They outrebounded us. They were tremendous defensively. Their zone was terrific. They did a good job limiting penetration. I thought we got out and pushed (the basketball), but I thought they slowed us down and made us play in the half-court against their zone which was tough to score against. We've struggled at times this year against zones, and Donnie (Tyndall's) zone is terrific."
Tech (27-7) led early in the game, holding a 9-8 advantage at the first media timeout with 15:39 to play in the first half after a three-pointer by senior guard Brandon Gibson. Following a Raheem Appleby free throw with 15:19 to play that gave Tech a two-point advantage, Dwayne Davis scored five straight points as USM went on a 9-0 run to take a 17-10 lead.
The Bulldogs continued to trail by seven points before a four-point play by Alex Hamilton with 9:04 to play cut the deficit down to 19-16.
"We've had plenty of nights where we didn't shoot the ball well, but our defense has usually pulled us through," Hamilton said. "Not tonight. They did a good job in their zone. They played really tough. I think we got away a little from what we were doing that was working early, but they did a good job of holding us offensively." However, USM quickly took the momentum back using a 14-0 run over a five-minute span, building a 33-16 lead with 4:08 to play in the first half.
Tech gave itself a fighter's chance at the half as Hamilton scored seven points during a half ending run that saw the Bulldogs close on an 11-2 run. The Bulldogs trailed 35-27 at the break.
The deficit remained single digits early in the second half at 42-33 on a Michale Kyser free throw before Tech went cold again, hitting only one field goal over the next four minutes. By the time Kenneth Smith scored with 12:45 to play, the Eagles led by 13.
USM would increase its lead to as many as 17 at 61-44 with 5:42 to play. The Bulldogs closed it down to 61-52 on two free throws by Kenyon McNeail with 1:04 to play before Southern Miss sealed the win.
"I'm nauseated right now with loss," White said. "To put it in perspective ... it was pretty special. It's a year I hope all of our kids remember. Although we are honored to be in the NIT, hopefully we can get in that other tournament next year.
"I think we will continue to build. I expect us to be very good next year. We will have more experience next year. We will welcome more kids to the mix. USM will be a team that we will be facing as well as the rest of C-USA. I look forward to environments like this one and to teams coming to Ruston to face our environment at the TAC."
Appleby led Tech with 17 points while Hamilton added 15 points in the loss. USM was led by Davis and Jerrold Brooks with 13 points each.
"We've accomplished a lot, but we've got to go back to work," Hamilton said. "We're not finished. We've still got something to prove."
The 27 wins by the Bulldogs were the second most in program history behind only the 1984-85 team led by Karl Malone that registered 29 wins.