Defense sealed the deal for Louisiana Tech completing a Conference USA basketball sweep of visiting Southern Miss Saturday afternoon.
Trailing with 10 minutes to go, the Bulldogs caged the Golden Eagles and turned the tide. Ultimately, a defensive rebound by JaColby Pemberton and two late free throws by Amorie Archibald finished a 65-62 victory inside Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.
The win gave LA Tech the two-game series which began Thursday night with a solid 76-63 road win at USM. LA Tech (14-5 overall, 7-3 in C-USA) stands fourth overall in conference play, third in C-USA West Division behind UAB (14-2, 7-1) and the Bulldogs’ next opponent, North Texas (9-5, 5-1). The Golden Eagles slipped to 7-10 overall, and 3-7 in league games.
After a dominating second half Thursday night in Hattiesburg, when LA Tech opened a 20-point lead in route to a 76-63 victory, Saturday afternoon at home, the Dunkin’ Dogs were having trouble stopping USM. The Golden Eagles were up 54-49 while shooting 51 percent overall with 9:42 left.
Then the defense for the Bulldogs, also a key in Thursday’s win, found another gear. They limited the opposition to just one made field goal in their final 13 shot attempts.
The two biggest stops came in the final seconds. Tech forced a miss on a potential go-ahead floater in the lane, then following Pemberton’s team-best seventh rebound and Archibald’s two free throws for a three-point edge, thwarted a half-court buzzer-beater that could have sent it into overtime. Archibald led the Bulldogs with 15 points.
“It was about the defensive end for us,” head coach Eric Konkol said. “We had a hard time scoring today. We missed free throws; we turned the basketball over, especially in the first half. We did a better job taking care of it in the second half, but we needed all the stops we could get.”
LA Tech was up 24-15 early and seemed poised to extend its lead even further. But after point guard Cobe Williams went down with an injury at midcourt, the Golden Eagles found an offensive flow.
USM used a 10-0 run to go up 44-37 after halftime, and held a 54-49 advantage midway through the second period.
Williams returned to the court a few minutes into the second half and provided the spark to get LA Tech back out in front. He scored seven of the team’s next 10 points, making it a 59-54 contest with 4:45 remaining. Tech didn’t trail afterward.
“I give a lot of credit to Cobe for fighting through his injury,” said Konkol. “He was not comfortable in the second half and our trainer, TJ Thurmond Jr., was very proactive in finding a way to treat and make Cobe feel as comfortable as possible. Without that, the game might have gone the other direction.”