The Louisiana Tech defense held arguably the best three-point shooter in the country, Akeem Richmond, to just three made field goals, but the Bulldogs had trouble from long range on their own as a late rally fell short in a 75-68 loss to East Carolina on Thursday night at the Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
LA Tech (21-6, 9-3 C-USA) shot just 37.5 percent (24-of-64) from the field and only knocked down 7-of-28 three-point attempts. However, it was the three-pointer that got the Bulldogs back into the game late, specifically from Kenyon McNeail, who hit five second half three balls with ECU (14-13, 3-9 C-USA) having as much as a 13-point lead.On the flipside, the ‘Dogs were only able to generate 11 points off of just 10 turnovers by the Pirates.
"We were not able to collapse the zone enough," said head coach Michael White. "They did a good job of defending our actions. We did not get any easy ones around the basket. It seems like whenever our front court people got dump offs, or got inside/outside action near the rim, when they were gathering their closing speed was really good. I just thought they played really hard. They deserved to win.
"I thought that the way they handled the ball tonight against our pressure was fantastic. We, unfortunately, have to rely on turnovers and we could not muster up enough. Their zone was effective, really stifling us offensively for the better part of the game." ECU took advantage of cold shooting by LA Tech in the early going to put together a 12-0 run which gave the Pirates a 14-5 lead. It took a three by Kenneth Smith to snap it. The cold shooting for the ‘Dogs continued from the perimeter in the first half against the zone, going just 2-of-12.
The Bulldogs changed its strategy of attacking the basket and drawing fouls which got them to within four, 27-23, with 3:53 to play. However, the duo of Caleb White and Prince Williams spearheaded the home team by combining for 26 points to put the Bulldogs down 36-27 at the half. "I think we did an okay job on [Akeem] Richmond," said White. "I just thought those other guys played well. They run good stuff and they got those guys shots. They took advantage. We allowed driving lanes for Robinson and White."
The start of the second stanza looked promising for the ‘Dogs as Speedy drove the lane for a floater and then forced a five-second violation on defense. East Carolina then countered with back-to-back three's, upping its lead to its largest, 44-31, on a jumper from Williams with 15:19 left. The Bulldogs needed someone to get hot and that was McNeail. The senior guard hit five three-pointers over the next 10 minutes of action to will his team back into it, cutting the deficit down to just four, 62-58.
Free throws by ECU gave them a little more cushion, but an old-fashioned three-point play by Alex Hamilton cut the deficit down to just one possession, 68-66, with 1:50 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Chris Anderson leaped high for a steal and gave the ball up to Hamilton who had his shot blocked at the rim on the drive. After a 30-second timeout, a costly turnover on the in-bounds went from a potential game-tying play to a free throw by the Pirates. Another chance to tie it up came on the next possession, but McNeail's long range three-pointer came up short and so did the Bulldogs.
McNeail finished with a team-high 20 points, the third straight game he has come off the bench to lead the ‘Dogs in scoring. Hamilton (14), J. Johnson (11) and Anderson (10) joined him in double figures. ECU ended up being led by White who had a game-high 21 points, including three of the Pirates 10 three-pointers.
LA Tech now heads to the state of Virginia to take on Old Dominion at 6 p.m. CT.
Press release provided by the Louisiana Tech sports information department.