Louisiana Tech completed its Western Athletic Conference season opening road trip with a 66-61 win over the Idaho Vandals (3-9, 0-2) in the Cowan Spectrum tonight to move to 9-6 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
The Bulldogs defeated Boise State on Thursday night by a buzzer-beating three-pointer by junior forward Paul Millsap, and Millsap once again led Tech offensively, as he posted his 53rd career double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Millsap also had four blocks and two steals in 30 minutes.
Tech finished its conference season opening weekend with a 2-0 perfect record for the first time in three years, and Tech head coach Keith Richard said he was more than happy to open with two wins on the road.
"I'm extremely happy to walk out of here with a win," Richard said. "I knew Idaho would play hard because they didn't want to start their conference season 0-2 at home. It's also been a long trip, and it's always hard to win on the road.
“But perhaps the most important thing you can draw from this game is our progress. We could not and did not win this type of game a month ago, but we showed more maturity and got the win tonight."
The Bulldogs had more offensive rebounds than Boise State's entire team on Thursday night, which helped Tech out-score the Broncos 22-1 on second chance points, and tonight the Bulldogs grabbed 19 offensive boards to out-score Idaho 17-8 on second chance points.
Eleven of Millsap's 15 rebounds were offensive, and Richard noted that Millsap's play on the glass was vital to Tech winning the contest with Idhao.
"I really thought there were three things that helped us win tonight," Richard said. "One was Millsap's offensive rebounding that led to points. He may be the best offensive rebounder in the country. Number two, free throws were important, and our depth really helped us win."
Tech entered the contest by shooting below .600 percent in its last three games and .625 for the season, but the Bulldogs connected on 17 of 23 free throws (.739) against Idaho, including eight of their last 11 attempts when the game was in doubt.
The Bulldogs took an early 7-2 lead to start the game before Idaho tied the score at 13 on a jumper by sophomore forward Mike Kale with 11:48 remaining in the first half.
Tech then scored six-straight points and extended its lead to eight at 32-24 at halftime. The Bulldogs made several runs in the second half to break the game open, but Idaho kept Tech's lead to single digits throughout the contest.
Idaho tied the score twice in the first 11 minutes of the second half before finally taking its only lead of the game at 49-47 on a lay-up by junior forward Desmond Nwoke with 8:59 remaining.
The Bulldogs jumped back in top with a three-pointer by senior forward Michael Wilds on the next possession, and Tech never again relinquished that lead.
However, the game was tight in the waning minutes. Junior guard Keoni Watson made two free throws to pull the Vandals within three points at 58-55 with 1:09 remaining, and Idaho reverted to fouling to make the Bulldogs win the game at the charity stripe.
Tech made eight of their last 11 free throws to seal the win, as senior point guard Daevon Haskins made five of seven, and junior guard Marcus Elliott sank three of four.
Following Millsap in scoring was Elliott, who made three three-pointers and finished with a season-high 16 points. Haskins had eight points, and junior guard Jerome Richardson added seven points.
Senior guard Corey Dean recorded six points, five assists, five steals and two rebounds in only 19 minutes, and junior forward Chad McKenzie and Wilds wrapped up the scoring with five and three points, respectively.
Tech dominated the boards by out-rebounding Idaho 37-27, and the Bulldogs committed only 13 turnovers. Tech is now 5-1 when committing fewer than 15 turnovers and 7-0 when shooting more free throws than its opponent.
The Bulldogs shot only .392 percent (22-56) for the game compared to Idaho’s .490 percent (24-49).
Tech’s next contest will be on Jan. 12 when the Bulldogs host the Hawaii Warriors at 7 p.m. in the Thomas Assembly Center. Hawaii (8-4, 2-0) is the only other team in the WAC to open conference 2-0.
The Warriors opened the season with an 84-62 win over then No. 4 Michigan State, and Hawaii has already defeated Utah State and No. 22 nationally-ranked Nevada on the island.
In the WAC’s preseason polls, Nevada was picked to win the conference, while Utah State was picked to finish second. Hawaii has defeated both and will enter Ruston, La., for an early conference showdown with the Bulldogs.