FRICSO, Texas — Coming into Friday’s first round contest in the National Invitation Tournament, the Louisiana Tech basketball team had trailed by double-digits in just three games this season.
Tech lost all three of those. And the Bulldogs found themselves in that same situation inside the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas, down 10 at halftime to Ole Miss.
This time around, the Bulldogs stormed back, using a massive 20-2 run to take down the Rebels by a final score of 70-61 in Frisco, Texas.
LA Tech (22-7) advanced to the quarterfinals on Thursday night, facing C-USA foe WKU in a postseason showdown between the West Division and East Division champs. Tipoff in Frisco is set for 9 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Ole Miss upset, over a team that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament as one of the first four teams left out of the at-large pool, was nothing new for the Dunkin’ Dogs. The program has made a habit in the last decade of stockpiling victories over Power 5 teams, and doing so in the postseason on several occasions.
It was the eight-year anniversary of the ‘Dogs going down to Tallahassee, Florida, in the first round of the 2013 NIT and defeating Florida State. In 2014, after winning in overtime at Oklahoma during the regular season, they went to Athens, Georgia, to beat the SEC Bulldogs in the NIT.
A year after that in the 2015 NIT, Texas A&M found itself on the losing end to LA Tech. Then Ohio State. Then Wichita State. Then Mississippi State last season. Now, Ole Miss joins the club.
The first half was a tale of two halves. The Bulldogs used a swarming defense to jump out to an 18-8 lead. However, the Rebels started running wild and completely flipped the script, taking a 37-27 edge into the locker room.
Whether it was a great halftime speech or great halftime adjustments or a combination of both, LA Tech completely owned the second frame, outscoring Ole Miss, 43-24, during the final 20 minutes, which included that 20-2 run that spanned over eight minutes.
“I told our team at halftime, we got into a weird place where our offensive struggles were affecting our defense,” said Tech coach Eric Konkol. “We had to get back to being gritty and tough on the defensive end. That is what we did in the second half.”
There was a lot to like during that winning stretch. Kenneth Lofton, Jr. dropped 11 of his team-high 22 points, flashing his “Bully Ball” against another SEC team (he had 17 points and 12 boards early this season at LSU).
“They did not double team me, so it was my time to shine out there,” said Lofton, Jr. “I showed them what I have and what I can do.”
There was also Cobe Williams, who drained one of his two 3-pointers — with one hand. (The other is heavily taped due to a broken finger). Despite that, the point guard played 17 minutes and registered eight points, three boards and three of the team’s whopping 15 steals.
“Cobe is a special human being,” Konkol said. “He is the engine, the heartbeat of this group and we saw a really gutsy performance from him and our team in the second half.”
Photo by ROGER STEINMAN