In the words of one veteran college basketball observer, “March is mean.”
It was round three for Louisiana Tech and North Texas, and the end of the road to the NCAA Tournament for the loser. Given the recent history of this battle, points were going to be hard to come by with two of the top defenses in the country squaring off.
Six points or less, including the two games in Denton, Texas earlier this season, had decided seven of the last eight meetings. The Bulldogs won game one, 68-63, and the Mean Green took game two, 57-55, last month.
It was UNT, the eventual Conference USA Tournament champions, who took the rubber match by a final score of 54-48 in Frisco, Texas on Friday night at the Star.
Tech’s regular-season West Division championship and 21 wins did not go for naught. Sunday night, the Bulldogs got the call to keep going, in the National Invitation Tournament.
By the time they resume practices to prepare for the NIT contest against Ole Miss Friday night back in Frisco, the frustration of the C-USA semifinal loss will be a faint memory. But in the aftermath of falling to UNT, March definitely felt mean to the ‘Dogs.
“It was a tough one for us,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “It was one of those games that went back and forth. We just could not quite get over the hump. I am so proud of this group of guys, for enduring so much, especially over the last week with injuries. It was a physical game on both sides. We had a hard time scoring throughout the game.”
LA Tech was already at a disadvantage from the tip saddled with an injured Cobe Williams. The C-USA All-Defensive Team point guard, who started all 26 regular season games, helped hold the Mean Green’s star point guard Javion Hamlet to 11 total points in the two-game series in February.
After an injured hand kept him from playing in the quarterfinal win over Florida Atlantic, Williams and his bandaged hand valiantly tried to play in the semifinals, but only saw three ineffective minutes of action.
Still, the defense came to play, limiting a potent UNT offense to just 39 percent shooting and only three made three-pointers. However, the Bulldogs were limited even more so.
After a back-and-forth affair in the first half, the Mean Green went on a 10-0 run early in the second half to build an eight-point lead, their largest of the game.
LA Tech chipped away little by little, getting to within one possession on several occasions, but could never get over the hump, making just two of its final 11 shot attempts while UNT sealed a trip to the finals at the free throw line.
The Bulldogs left Frisco Saturday morning headed back to Ruston. On Sunday night though, Tech learned they were headed back to the Dallas suburb as they were selected to participate in the 2021 National Invitation Tournament.
LA Tech was one of 16 teams chosen in the event that will be hosted by Conference USA and the University of North Texas. The Bulldogs drew the No. 4 seed and will take on No. 1 seed Ole Miss in the first round.
The matchup will take place on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Comerica Center in Frisco and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
LA Tech is making its first postseason in five years and its first NIT appearance since 2015. This will mark the 10th time the Bulldogs play in this tournament.
Tech basketball 3-11. – photo credit Roger Steinman, courtesy C-USA