CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A depleted Bulldogs squad saw their once 23-point second half lead cut to as little as one, but Louisiana Tech (11-6, 3-1 C-USA) silenced the crowd with clutch shooting down the stretch to escape Charlotte with a 79-73 win over the 49ers.
Thursday night’s battle between LA Tech and Charlotte (7-9, 1-4 C-USA) had everything you want in a college basketball game: Two fast-paced offenses, a highlight reel dunk and a freshman who when the spotlight came on, shined.
“It was a total team effort tonight,” Louisiana Tech head coach Eric Konkol said. “Jalen Harris came down with the flu late yesterday and couldn’t play today. Oliver Powell played 20 minutes after having been out. We also had a lot of foul trouble and I told the team that I am so proud of them for sticking together through their runs. We knew there would be one, because they can shoot the three. I am just really proud of our team and the way they battled.”
It started with the Bulldogs and 49ers going back-and-forth in the first 15 minutes, with neither team able to find separation. LA Tech stifled the Charlotte shooters with a 1-3-1 zone and closed the first half on a 13-0 run, taking a 45-31 lead into the locker room.
LA Tech refused to take their foot off the gas to start the second half, extending their lead out to as much as 23 points on a 360 fast break slam dunk by Jacobi Boykins. The dunk, which drew gasps from the crowd in Halton Arena, was the exclamation point that capped off a 25-3 run by the Bulldogs stretching back into the first half.
A light came on for the 49ers at that point, however, as Charlotte responded immediately with a three from Braxton Ogbueze. Charlotte would continue to slowly chip away at the lead, at one point holding Louisiana Tech scoreless for a stretch of four-plus minutes.
Including the shot by Ogbueze, Charlotte would make seven of their next 10 three-point attempts to get the lead back to single-digits. All the while, the 49ers were successful on their first 14 attempts from the free throw line.
LA Tech used a three-pointer of its own from DaQuan Bracey to temporarily silence the crowd and extend the lead back into double-digits, but the hot-shooting 49ers continued to battle and a three-pointer form Ogbueze with 1:12 remaining cut the LA Tech lead down to one.
The crowd of 4,319 saw victory within the grasp of the 49ers, but on the ensuing inbound, Derric Jean would be fouled while taking the ball up the sideline and sink both free throws. After a missed three pointer by Charlotte, Joniah White would hit one-of-two free throws to make it a two-possession game. A steal by White on the next Charlotte possession followed by two free throws from Jy’lan Washington would seal the victory for the Bulldogs.
“We talked about growth just now,” Konkol said. “We grew tonight for a couple of reasons. The first is that we executed the game plan. The second, is when Charlotte went on their run, and we knew it was coming, there were moments where there was concern, but [the team] really came together. We wanted it badly and took care of the basketball, while making enough free throws down the stretch [to get the win].”
Boykins led the Bulldogs with 16 points, while Derric Jean and Bracey would each score 14 points. The 14 points for Bracey would tie a career-high. Also scoring in double-figures for the Bulldogs was Omar Sherman with 12 points.
In his first action since Dec. 22 against LSU-Shreveport, Oliver Powell saw 20 minutes of actions and led the Bulldogs with a career-high seven rebounds, two of which came on the offensive end. The freshman also added four points in the victory.
On the defensive side of the ball, Boykins continues to wreak havoc on opponents. The junior came up with four steals in the win, and now has a total of 17 steals in his last five games.
LA Tech starts conference play 3-1 for the fourth time in the past five seasons. The previous three times resulted in conference championships for the Bulldogs in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Louisiana Tech will now make a quick trip to Norfolk, Virginia for a Saturday night battle with Old Dominion that is set for 3 p.m. CT and will be televised on the American Sports Network.