New Conference, Same Winning
Jan. 25, 2018
From 1983-87, the golden age of Louisiana Tech men’s basketball was in full motion.
During that four-year run, the Bulldogs went 97-32 which tied for the 17th best winning percentage in the country during that span. Thirty-four of those victories came in the Southland Conference which resulted in two regular season titles.
LA Tech also went 8-1 in the SLC Tournament which resulted in three championships and three trips to the NCAA Tournament. The lone loss was not so bad either, advancing to the NIT Final Four in New York.
It was domination at its finest.
For the 1987-88 season, the ‘Dogs – guided by third-year head coach Tommy Joe Eagles – would have to take their talents to a new league as they would join the newly-formed American South Conference along with charter schools Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL), New Orleans, Lamar, Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and Arkansas State.
Could LA Tech make it five straight seasons of 20+ wins and postseason appearances? Could LA Tech go into a new league and come out on top again?
The short answer is yes.
It was not predicted to be that way though. New Orleans was the clear-cut favorite to win the league in its inaugural season, having been a nationally-ranked team and NCAA Tourney participant the previous year.
The Bulldogs were picked second. They returned three starters – Randy White, Kelvin Lewis and Byron Newton – as well as key players Brett Guillory, Kevin Tatum, Darryl Knight, Kennedy Louis, Dickie Crawford, Eldon Bowman, Robert McAlister, Michael Ames and Vernon Norris.
Oddly, the roster was made up of only one senior, the point guard Lewis, and zero freshmen. Arguably their biggest challenge was replacing the scoring void of Robert Godbolt, Louis Cook and Maurice Jackson who combined to score 35 points per game.
LA Tech opened the season a long ways from Ruston at the Fleet Classic in Providence, Rhode Island where they finished runner-up after downing Northeastern in the opener before falling to the host Friars by a score of 84-80.
Three consecutive wins followed but were quickly overshadowed by three consecutive losses, one at Northeastern Louisiana (now ULM) and two coming all the way in Missoula, Montana at the Champion Holiday Classic.
With a 4-4 record eight games into the season, game nine on Dec. 15 at Middle Tennessee seemed to be somewhat of a turning point for the Bulldogs. Two made free throws with four seconds remaining gave the Blue Raiders a one-point lead, its first since midway through the first period.
After coach Eagles called a timeout, Brett Guillory (who played every second of the game) scored on a shot in the paint at the buzzer for the game winner.
The Bulldogs went on to put together a seven-game winning streak, including an 84-70 victory over the Ragin’ Cajuns on Jan. 18 in their first ever conference game in the ASC.
However, LA Tech hit another rough patch away from home. Their next four games came on the road, dropping three of them and all by double-digit points.
Another seven-game winning streak was on the horizon though. It started with a non-conference thrashing of Weber State inside the Thomas Assembly Center.
Next, the Bulldogs went down to the Cajundome in Lafayette and after only scoring 18 points in the first half, they battled back to win it, 59-57, with Kelvin Lewis making two free throws with three seconds remaining to seal it.
The next five games were all in the TAC and all ended up in the win column, finishing the season with a perfect 13-0 home record and a share of the American South Conference regular season title with New Orleans.
Despite a loss in the regular season finale at McNeese State, LA Tech turned its attention to Beaumont, Texas at the Montagne Center to compete in the ASC Tournament.
The Bulldogs outlasted the Red Wolves of Arkansas State in the semifinals, 63-61, behind a season-high 30 points from Randy White. Then in the finals versus the Privateers in a nationally-televised game on ESPN, LA Tech hung on for a 69-66 victory. It was White who came up big again, registering one of his 22 double-doubles on the season with 22 points and 13 boards.
Since the ASC Tournament champion was not given an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament due to it being the first year of the league, the ‘Dogs went on to the National Invitation Tournament where they upended UALR in Little Rock, 66-56, before falling to eventual NIT champion UConn, 65-59.
LA Tech overcame injuries to Byron Newton and Darryl Knight during the season to post yet another 20+ win season with a 22-9 overall record.
Coach Eagles was rightfully chosen as the ASC Coach of the Year.
Junior Randy White, a First Team All-ASC selection, ended up leading the team in scoring and rebounding with an average of 18.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, respectively. His rebounding average ranked fifth nationally and he also ranked seventh in the country in field goal percentage (63.8).
Senior point guard Kelvin Lewis was named Second Team All-ASC after averaging 8.0 points per game while leading the team and the league in assists (198 for an average of 6.4). He also anchored the Bulldogs in steals with 49 for an average of 1.6 per game.
The 1987-88 season was a new year in a new conference, but it was the same winning.
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