Dec. 30, 2012
RUSTON - Six players scored at least eight points, led by guard Raheem Appleby with 12, as the all-around offensive effort by Louisiana Tech (10-3, 1-0) was enough to maintain the edge throughout most of the contest and take the WAC season opener over Denver (4-7, 0-1) by a final score of 68-60 Saturday night at the Thomas Assembly Center.
It had been three weeks since LA Tech played in the TAC, but they picked up exactly where they left off by staying a perfect 5-0 at home this season. Meanwhile, Denver remained winless on the road with the loss.
"It was a big win," said head coach Michael White. "[It was] a great way to start the conference season against a team that was picked very high in preseason standings and against a team that has been there and done that. They have played really well thus far this season and I think they are going to be in the thick of things at the end of the WAC season with a chance to, I think, be one of the best teams in this league. It was a big win for us."
The vastly different playing styles led to a lack of offense by both clubs to open up the game, but the Bulldogs held the Pioneers scoreless for a four-minute stretch and were able to build a double-digit lead, 18-8, with 8:57 left in the first half on an Alex Hamilton three-pointer.
Denver would respond, as they did all night, with six straight points to slice into the Bulldog lead.
Point guard Kenneth Smith brought the crowd of 2,295 to their feet with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half after a steal and a breakaway layup gave the Bulldogs a 32-23 advantage, but Denver's Cam Griffin came down to score an old-fashion three-point play to bring the score to 32-26 at the break.
"[Denver] executes so well offensively," said White. "They've got a bunch of high-IQ kids. They are really well coached. They are determined in what they do offensively and defensively. We, I guess, got just barely enough against their zone to survive. They will be awfully hard to beat here down the road at their place."
The Pioneers came into tonight's contest averaging just 12.3 turnovers per game, but the Bulldogs managed to force 17 for the game, 11 of which came in the first half.
The LA Tech defense was also stellar on the perimeter, holding Denver to just 1-of-9 shooting beyond the arc during the first stanza.
Hamilton came up with another huge play for the `Dogs to push their lead back to double-digits with a steal and a breakaway slam dunk to go up 47-37 with 12:04 to go in the game.
With two of Denver's starters in foul trouble, the three-point line would be where the Bulldogs would maintain their lead the rest of the way, shooting 6-of-13 for the contest. The 13 attempts was a season-low for the `Dogs, but two made threes each by guards Brandon Gibson and Kenyon McNeail in the second stanza kept the Pioneers at bay.
"I know 6-of-13, we didn't hit many tonight, but I was happy with our lack of attempts," said White. "We didn't settle for a bunch of threes, although that's what Denver is pretty good at with their zone anyway. We will take 6-of-13 every night."
All of Gibson's nine points came in the second half, and McNeail ended with 10 points.
Smith also added 10 points and Hamilton with eight while forward Michale Kyser finished with eight points and a game-high eight rebounds to go along with his three blocks.
"It is great to get contributions from so many guys," said White. "I am not sure we have had a game this year where we had six or eight that we felt like played pretty descent. If you've got five to seven on any given night that they give you pretty good contributions, you are in business."
LA Tech led by at least five throughout the entire second half, never allowing Denver to get within a possession of tying or taking the lead. It would only be with less than two minutes remaining that the Bulldogs built a 13-point edge, their largest of the game, to secure the victory.
Denver was led by Royce O'Neale who led all scorers with 18 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Chris Udofia also scored in double digits adding 10 points.
Louisiana Tech returns to action on New Year's Eve as they face off against WAC preseason favorite New Mexico State in a 7 p.m. contest at the Thomas Assembly Center.
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