Feb. 26, 2014
RUSTON - First place will be on the line Thursday night as Louisiana Tech plays its final home game inside the Thomas Assembly Center this season versus league-leader Middle Tennessee at 6:30 p.m.
LA Tech (22-6, 10-3 C-USA) and MT (21-7, 11-2 C-USA) have certainly made their presence known in their first year in Conference USA with the Bulldogs in a four-way tie for second place and just one game back of the Blue Raiders.
The two teams will collide though with conference title and double bye hopes as the regular season nears its end.
"We have a lot to play for," said head coach Michael White. "We have no margin for error as it relates to having a chance of at least sharing a conference championship which would be a tremendous feat. We have a tough road ahead of us with Middle Tennessee. We have to lay it on the line Thursday night. I don't know how well we will play in certain areas, but I expect us to play very, very hard.
"Our crowd has been great [this season]. We are very proud of the progress we have made as a program in developing the atmosphere in the TAC. IT has helped us win some big games. Thursday night, we are hoping that our people come out. That our Bulldog faithful come see us one last time."
It has been no secret that the `Dogs have had tremendous success in the TAC during coach White's three years at the helm where they are 37-5 and have won 30 of the last 31 games.
It has not only been the wins, but the way the `Dogs have won with a scoring margin of 17.1 and 17 of the 37 victories coming by 20 points or more.
LA Tech would be more than happy with a one-point win on Thursday against a solid Middle Tennessee squad who comes in as the hottest team in C-USA, sporting a nine-game winning streak.
This streak has put MT in position to possibly win its fourth straight conference title in the past five seasons. Prior to joining C-USA, the Blue Raiders won three titles while in the Sun Belt, reaching the NCAA Tournament last season as an at-large for the first time since 1989. They finished with a program-record 28 wins.
The stretch run during conference play has been keyed by the defense which ranks first in the league by only allowing 60.2 points per game and not surrendering more than 70 points to any opponent. Coupled with that is MT's ability to shoot the three which ranks first in the league as well (37.4).
It was a three-pointer which saved kept the streak intact in their last outing as Jaqawn Raymond hit one as the shot clock expired with 19 seconds left to sneak past Marshall, 56-53.
The Blue Raiders start four seniors and one freshman, led by forward Shawn Jones who has registered nine double-doubles this season. He anchors the team in points per game (14.7) and rebounds per game (8.2).
Something will have to give on Thursday as the Bulldogs still lead the league in scoring offense (79.8) and are second in three-point field goal percentage defense (28.9).
Four seniors - Kenyon McNeail, Cordarius Johnson, Jaron Johnson and Chris Anderson - will be recognized before tipoff with all four being a huge reason why LA Tech is in position for its second straight conference title.
One of those four have been the team's leading scorer in six of the last eight games and three of them are averaging at least 12.5 points per game during league action.
"This group has been incredible," said White. "I was blessed to inherit Cordarius Johnson and Kenyon McNeail, both four-year Bulldogs who both had good freshman years, respectively, and as sophomores they had to adjust to a new coach and a new system. They have been high-character guys who have come to work every day.
"With Jaron Johnson and Chris Anderson, they have made huge strides after graduating from junior college, and just less than two years later, have come along as men and as players. All four have helped us win a lot of games. We hope to send them out the right way and we will need all four of those guys to beat Middle Tennessee."
Free hot dogs and chili will be available on the front steps of the TAC provided by Brennan Dodge, while supplies last. There will also be free koozies handed out to the first 250 fans in attendance.
Students are encouraged to pack the Blue Crew section and get some free pizza in the process. Campus Evolution Villages, who has provided the free pizza for the entire conference season, will also be giving out a GoPro camera via the year-long student raffle.
A lucky student in attendance will also win 500 dollars, courtesy of Bulldogs, Barks & Bytes.
The contest can be heard live on the LA Tech Sports Network on KXKZ 107.5 FM, KJVC 92.7 FM and KTKC 92.9 FM. The "Voice of the Bulldogs" Dave Nitz will have the call with pregame starting at 6 p.m. CT. and Jack Thigpen joining him as analyst. Fans can also access live video and audio of the game via the Internet by subscribing to LA Tech All-Access at www.LATechSports.com.
Twitter users can also receive live in-game updates by following @LATechHoops.