RUSTON –- Louisiana Tech survived a fast paced offense from the visiting New Mexico State Aggies Saturday night in front of a crowd of 3,845 in the Thomas Assembly Center to remain in sole possession of first place in the Western Athletic Conference and perfect at home by a final score of 66-61.
“There was good jubilation in that locker room tonight,” head coach Keith Richard. “That team knew they worked hard and got a well-earned victory.”
The Bulldogs wasted no time on offense and got up as much as 12-3 with 15:46 in the first half before the Aggies were able to get an offense going. New Mexico State was able to tie the game at 16 with 12:19 on the clock in the first period.
“(New Mexico State) was a good team with quick guard play,” Richard said. “They really have a chance to beat anybody they play.”
The Bulldogs managed to pull ahead for the remainder of the half thanks to a lay up from junior forward Chad Mackenzie at the 5:35 mark that put the score at 24-23, and Tech took a 35-30 lead into the halftime locker room after shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Tech kept the lead for the remainder of the game but never seemed to pull away and extend the lead further than nine points.
“We didn’t handle success very well,” Richard said. “When we tried to get further ahead, we would get sloppy with the basketball or miss a man on defense. There’s still room for improvement for our team. We had our highest field goal percentage (44 percent) in conference play tonight, but we have to become really efficient with the basketball.”
Junior star forward Paul Millsap finished with his 58th double-double after scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, yet only scored eight points in the second half.
“New Mexico State did an excellent job on Millsap, and he still had 21 and 14,” Richard said. “We have to hit him when he’s open, even if he’s being triple-teamed in a zone defense.”
The Aggie offense would not go away, and closed the gap to as little as two with 1:32 left in the game at 61-59, but junior guard Marcus Elliot connected on five of six free throws for the remainder of the game to seal the victory and keep the Bulldogs on top of the WAC.
“Elliot showed tremendous toughness on the defensive and offensive end tonight,” Richard said. “It ended up being his toughness on offense that helped us win it tonight.”
The Bulldogs will return to action Thursday, Jan. 26 at 9 p.m. when they take on the San Jose Spartans (5-12; 1-3 WAC) on the road.