RUSTON – Since the start of the season Louisiana Tech head coach Brooke Stoehr has been trying to find a way to get junior Alexus Malone to put it into another gear on the court.
And the last few games Malone has started to accelerate.
Thursday night at the Thomas Assembly Center, Malone put it into overdrive, scoring a career-high 28 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds to lead Louisiana Tech (7-8, 2-2 C-USA) to an 80-54 win over Charlotte (12-4, 4-1 C-USA) handing the 49ers their first loss in almost two months.
The junior forward and transfer from Buffalo hit 10-of-14 field goals and 8-of-10 free throws while also pulling down 11 offensive rebounds to spearhead a Techster job on the glass that would have made the Mr. Clean shine with pride. Tech outrebounded Charlotte 56-32, including 25 offensive rebounds that led to a 30-9 advantage in second chance points.
“Tonight was the first time I felt like everyone really competed for 40 minutes,” said Stoehr. “We were winning all of the 50-50 balls. When we didn’t make shots, we pulled down offensive rebounds and made putbacks or got to the free throw line. That was a really, really good basketball team we just beat.
“We felt we had an advantage inside and we played that way. And it wasn’t just Lex. It was everyone. I told Reauna Cleaver this morning I needed 10 rebounds from her. I got 10 rebounds. It didn’t matter who we put in the game, they competed.”
It was a win that the Lady Techsters desperately needed. After losing five of the last six, including three losses by two points during that stretch of games, Stoehr and Co. were tired of coming close. They played like it Thursday night.
Tech came out of the locker room strong, hitting 69 percent of its field goals in the first quarter and grabbing a 22-20 lead through 10 minutes of play. Jasmine LeBlanc ended the quarter by nailing a three-pointer to give Tech the lead despite nine turnovers by the Lady Techsters in the frame.
“I thought the only thing that stopped us offensively in the first quarter was our unforced turnovers,” said Stoehr. “Those are the kind that will drive a coach crazy. We settled down and only turned it over eight times over the final three quarters.”
Tech led 28-26 after a Grace Hunter jumper with 6:46 to play in the second quarter but then used a 10-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to push the advantage to 38-26. Tech led 42-32 at the break.
“We know they have some prolific scoring guards,” said Stoehr. “You saw it with Ciara Gregory. That kid has incredible range and she showed it. She made a few of (her 6 three-pointers) with someone in her face. We knew we had a lot of basketball left to play in the second half.”
Charlotte came out of the half and made two runs at Tech, cutting the Lady Techster lead to 51-47 on a pair of Gregory free throws with 2:40 to play in the third quarter. However, from there it was all LA Tech as Malone and LeBlanc combined to score the final seven points of the frame, giving Tech a 58-47 lead.
Any chance of a Charlotte fourth quarter comeback was doused early as back-to-back three-pointers by Kierra Anthony and Rochelle Vasquez gave Tech a 66-47 advantage. A Malone jumper with 3:52 to play in the game saw Tech lead by 20 for the first time as the Lady Techsters outscored the 49ers 22-7 over the final 10 minutes.
Vasquez added 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals while LeBlanc recorded her fourth straight double double in C-USA play with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Gregory led Charlotte with 24 points while Hunter added 11 points.
The Lady Techsters return to action Saturday when they host Old Dominion at 1 p.m. on Legends Day.