Bulldogs return to action as Owls visit

The Louisiana Tech men’s basketball team got its first taste of cancellations last week.

The Bulldogs went 23 straight games beginning in late November without a single hiccup to their schedule, something not even head coach Eric Konkol would have predicted.

Strangely, a combination of snow and ice forced last weekend’s Middle Tennessee series to be canceled. Now after a two-week hiatus, LA Tech hosts Rice in a two-game series that tips off on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and then Saturday at 1 p.m. inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

Despite the unintentional bye week, LA Tech moved up in the West Division standings as a result of UAB splitting with Old Dominion. The Bulldogs and Blazers are now tied for second behind North Texas.

LA Tech has won nine of the last 11 games, including the most recent 70-58 and 69-64 victories over UAB. In that series, Cobe Williams shined by averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. Kenneth Lofton, Jr. continued playing bully ball, averaging 17.0 points and 9.5 rebounds to help earn his seventh C-USA Freshman of the Week honor this season.

This duo is part of a balanced scoring attack for LA Tech that includes six players averaging at least nine points per game – Isaiah Crawford (11.5), Lofton, Jr. (10.8), Kalob Ledoux (10.4), Amorie Archibald (10.4), JaColby Pemberton (9.3) and Williams (9.2).

The last time a LA Tech team had six active players averaging at least nine points this late in the season? You have to go all the way back to the 1998-99 team that prevailed as Sun Belt Conference champions.

Defense has been the name of the game though for the Bulldogs. Over the last seven contests, opponents are averaging just 60.3 points per game.

They currently rank 39th in the country in defensive efficiency and are top two in the league in field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense.

That defense will be put to the test twice this weekend with Rice coming to Ruston. The Owls are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, ranking first in C-USA and sixth in the country with an average of 10.6 made threes per game.

They are shooting at a 37.1 percent clip from deep and have taken 148 more three-point attempts than the Bulldogs this season.

Rice also had last weekend’s games against Marshall postponed. They were last in action two weeks ago, suffering losses of 77-71 and 89-66 at Western Kentucky, putting them in a tie for fifth in the West Division with UTEP.

Quincy Olivari and Travis Evee are a pair of dynamic guards averaging over 15 points per game. The duo has combined to make 133 three-pointers this season.

LA Tech leads the all-time series over Rice, 16-7. Since becoming C-USA opponents, the Bulldogs have won nine of the 11 meetings.

Game one will be streamed on CUSA.tv while game two will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.

Photo: La Tech Athletics/Donny Crowe

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