FRISCO, Texas – Confidence goes a long way at any time, but especially at crunch time.
“If I see that first one go down, I feel like it is going to be a long night for the other team.”
Kalob Ledoux had that feeling Thursday night in the season’s biggest game – so far. Louisiana Tech’s sharpshooter drained six 3-pointers en route to a game-high 20 points, fueling a landmark win for the Bulldogs.
His teammates added five more from beyond the arc, as well as some clutch buckets and free throws down the stretch, sending Tech to the NIT Final Four with a 72-65 victory over Western Kentucky in an NIT quarterfinal game inside the Comerica Center.
LA Tech (23-7), making the NIT semifinals for just the second time in program history, will face Mississippi State at 2 p.m. Saturday in a game that will air on ESPN.
“It is fun to stay in Frisco,” said Tech coach Eric Konkol with a smile.
The Bulldogs are a streaky bunch from deep. In their previous two games, the team combined to make only seven triples. They had more than that at halftime in the quarterfinals, pouring in eight of them.
Ledoux’s third, followed by Amorie Archibald’s swish from three, gave LA Tech a 27-21 advantage. This came after a cold streak of nine straight misses by the squad.
WKU (21-8) fired back with a 10-0 run, taking a four-point lead after a stepback 3-pointer by Taveion Hollingsworth with 3:25 remaining in the first half.
Then came another onslaught of treys by the Bulldogs. First, it was the one-handed Cobe Williams, playing with a bandage on his injured shooting hand. Then Ledoux made it 4-for-4 from deep. Next, Exavian Christon nailed one from the wing. And finally, Williams tacked on another.
The end result … a 12-0 run and a 39-31 halftime lead. WKU never quite recovered.
“There was a timeout with about two and a half minutes to go in the first half, and I told our team that I wanted to get three stops in a row right now and go on a run before halftime,” Konkol said. “That is exactly what our team did.”
Ledoux’s sixth and final 3-pointer came with 10:38 to play in the game. A fastbreak layup by Kenneth Lofton, Jr. followed, giving LA Tech a double-digit advantage at 58-48.
The Hilltoppers did not go away, though. An old-fashioned three-point play by big man Charles Bassey, a pair of free throws by Hollingsworth and a deep 3-pointer by Jordan Rawls put WKU within four at 60-56, forcing a timeout by Konkol.
Tech’s lead was trimmed to four again, 64-60, with a little over a minute remaining.
From then on, LA Tech made the winning plays. Isaiah Crawford bullied his way into the lane for an and-one (missed the free throw). Then Lofton, Jr. sent the Bulldog fans into a frenzy with his steal-and-slam, cutting into the passing lane on the wing to make the swipe and rumbling downcourt for a thunderous one-handed dunk.
Afterward, Crawford redeemed himself at the foul line, calmly sinking both opportunities, as did his teammate Christon to seal the defeat of the C-USA East Division champions.
“So proud of our team,” Konkol said. “They found a way. Our 3-point shooting was really special tonight, but there were key baskets down the stretch. Big free throws. We were able to get enough stops against a really good team. It is now down to just four of us.”
LA Tech shot 47.3 percent from the field (26-55) and 61.1 percent from 3-point range (11-18).
Lofton, Jr. finished with an all-around box score of 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Archibald added 11 points and Crawford tacked on nine to go along with a career-high six assists.
WKU shot 34.8 percent from the field (23-66) and made nine threes, but it took 30 attempts. Rawls had 20 points while Bassey registered 15 points and 16 boards.
But after splitting regular-season meetings at WKU, it was Tech taking the high-stakes rubber match, and continuing to dance in March.