Team Profile: Louisiana Tech 70, Northeastern 67
You could feel the energy and the excitement as the hair rose on the back of your neck. The crowd as Matthews Arena was electric, its heart pounding with each shot. This Louisiana Tech-Northeastern game, my friends, had the feel of a NCAA Tournament game.
And like the best NCAA Tournament games, it came down to the final shot after a second-half seesaw battle.
With the score deadlocked, and less than a minute to play, Northeastern relied on its patented in-your-face man-to-man defense. With the shot clock winding down, the Huskies’ ferocious defense forced Kyle Gibson to dribble into a double team in the corner. Just as the second defender arrived, Gibson found junior point guard DeAndre Brown about five feet beyond the 3-point line.
Brown quickly set his feet and banked in the game-winning triple with 23.6 second to play, giving Louisiana Tech a huge 70-67 road victory in this year’s ESPN BracketBusters.
Northeastern had three attempts to tie the game in the closing seconds but Manny Adoka missed a pair of triples and Chaisson Allen’s corner 3 clanked the rim as the clock expired.
“It was a great opportunity for us to get some exposure, confidence and experience,” Huskies coach Kerry Rupp said.
Exposure is all these mid-majors are asking for due to the overwhelming number of small schools that regrettably feel snubbed come tournament time. But on this day, with this rocking crowd of just more than 5,000 fans, both teams at least showed the country what mid-majors not named Butler, Siena, Northern Iowa and Saint Mary’s have to offer.
From the start, the game was about tempo. And from the opening tipoff the tempo was closer to the roadrunner than the coyote. Heck, the game was cruising along so well – eight minutes into the game all 10 starters had scored – and without any stoppages that the first TV timeout came with 11:56 remaining. (That caused an interesting TV moment as – per commercial regulations – there is supposed to be a TV timeout with the first stoppage under 16 minutes and another under 12 minutes to play. The solution was something rarely seen. After the foul was committed, the game went to commercial. After Louisiana Tech shot the first of two free throws, the game went to another commercial.)
Commercials aside, the game was flying and that favored the visiting Bulldogs who love the up-tempo style. For much of the first half, however, Northeastern relished not only the game’s speed but also playing in front of a national TV audience at home for the first time since 1991.
Northeastern led much of the first half, pounding the ball inside against a variety of Louisiana Tech zones and presses. (La Tech started the game in a 2-1-1-1 full-court press and used both a 1-3-1 zone and a 2-3 zone on defense). The Huskies took an early 13-6 lead by scoring 10 of those points in the paint.
Nevertheless, you could see the chinks in Northeastern’s defensive armor. Put Louisiana Tech’s first possession under the microscope: After a missed shot –a close-range hook from Olu Ashaolu – the Bulldogs got another rebound before Magnum Rolle made a layup and drew a foul. After missing the free throw, Kyle Gibson grabbed the offensive rebound and the ensuring layup gave La Tech a quick 4-0 lead on an unconventional 4-point play.
There would be too many second and third chances throughout the game against a team that prides itself on one-and-done possessions. In the end, those extra possessions added up and became an accomplice for the defeat.
Still, the Huskies held a 65-57 lead with five minutes to play. That is where the game turned. Senior Jamel Guyton – a 40 percent 3-point shooter – drained a triple from the corner to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to five. On the next possession, Guyton drew a foul while shooting a triple. After making all three free throws, the eight-point Northeastern lead was down to a two-point game.
Northeastern’s Adako called for the ball inside on the next possession and delivered a money hook shot with 3:35 to play. Those two points, giving Northeastern a 67-63 lead, would be the Huskies’ last.
Kyle Gibson hit a deep three with two minutes to play to make it 67-66. The next possession resulted in Rolle getting fouled and splitting a pair of free throws to knot the game at 67.
When Northeastern’s Matt Jannings was called with a charging foul – the call could be debated whether the defender was set or slightly moving but Jannings was definitely out of control and didn’t look like he had a plan when he lowered his shoulder in the lane – it set up Brown’s heroics.
Guyton and Brown led the Bulldogs with 18 points apiece and went a combined 7-for-8 on three-point attempts while Rolle added 17 points. Despite an off-shooting night, Gibson scored nine points to go along with a team-high four assists.
For the home Huskies, Jannings did his regular dirty work with 19 points and seven assists and Nkem Ojougboh added 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Adako added 14 points while Allen had 11. A better shooting night for the best athlete on the team – Allen – probably would have resulted in a victory for the Huskies. But Allen was just 1-for-8 on three-point attempts. Everything else in Allen’s stat line (six rebounds, six assists, two steals) was pretty normal.
NCAA Tournament Implications: Northeastern seems closer to an at-large bid because of the CAA’s strength this season but both teams realistically will need to win their respective conference tournaments to reach the Big Dance. Louisiana Tech seized the all-important road victory while Northeastern will quickly have to heal the wounds and prepare for the final two CAA regular season games. The Huskies will win a share of the CAA regular season crown by winning their final two games – vs. Hofstra and at George Mason. Louisiana Tech has two home games and two road contests before the WAC regular season concludes. This game puts both teams at a crossroads. Which way will each travel?