Dec. 8, 2012
RUSTON - Guard Kenyon McNeail came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points to lead Louisiana Tech (8-2) to a hard-fought 65-55 victory over Southern Miss (6-3) on Saturday night in front of 2,575 fans inside the Thomas Assembly Center.
"[I was] very, very pleased with our effort," said head coach Michael White. "Just to get a win against a really good team, I would've been thrilled to beat them by half a point. They had Arizona on the ropes the other night, the No. 8 team in the country. They are very solid. Their defense is very unique and sound. It feels good to beat a very quality team on our home floor."
Forward J.L. Lewis also chipped in with a season-high eight points and four rebounds as the Bulldog bench totaled 32 of the team's 65 points and came away with the 30th straight non-conference victory at the TAC.
"Kenyon McNeail was the best player on the floor tonight," said White. "He had his best game, arguably, as a Bulldog. He was tremendous. J.L. Lewis gets an opportunity tonight and was terrific. He did more things that didn't show up on the stat sheet as well. He's a leader. He's the anchor of our defense when he's out there with his communication. Our bench was really good."
The LA Tech defense set the tone for the night early, forcing seven turnovers in the first four minutes of action and not allowing the first field goal to Southern Miss until the 13:37 mark in the first half.
The Bulldogs led by as much as 18-6 with 8:54 to play until halftime after a McNeail three-pointer before the Golden Eagles would battle back to cut into the LA Tech lead, 24-23, at the end of the first stanza.
At the break, the `Dogs shot just 26 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 27-to-14 by a physical USM squad.
Just over one minute into the second half Southern Miss built a four-point lead, their largest of the game, on a Dwayne Davis three-pointer. Coach White immediately called a timeout and subbed out his entire starting lineup.
McNeail re-entered and quickly executed the rare four-point play after draining a three-pointer plus the free throw to tie the game up at 28-28.
The Bulldogs then went on a 14-2 run to increase their lead to eight highlighted by the seventh steal of the game by guard Kenneth Smith who outraced the Golden Eagle defender to the basket for a layup and the foul.
The seven steals broke his previous career-high of six and also tied the LA Tech record for most in a single game.
The team fouls started to pile up for both squads, and the `Dogs recent struggles from the free throw line allowed USM to claw back into the game, getting to within two points.
The Bulldog defense would again bunker down to hold the Golden Eagles scoreless over the next three minutes to push their lead back out to double-digits, 56-45 with 4:10 to play, and maintain that lead for their eighth win of the season.
LA Tech shot 57 percent in the second half on just 21 attempts compared to the 34 attempts by USM, but was able to force 23 total turnovers by the Golden Eagles.
"We were physical enough to win the game," said White. "We played tough enough to withstand that physicality and made big plays. I thought our press was really good, turning them over 23 times, which really gave us a chance to win."
Michael Craig scored 21 points for Southern Miss to lead all scorers.
Louisiana Tech's next action comes Wednesday night, December 12, in Lake Charles at 7 p.m. as the Bulldogs take on McNeese State.
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