Tech’s Lofton Jr. garners national spotlight with NIT performances

Photo of Kenneth Lofton, Jr. by ROGER STEINMAN

Staff writer

“I give that big freshman a lot of credit. He dominated the game.”

“It is hard to believe that kid is a freshman. He is a matchup problem. I have a lot of respect for his game. He is a monster.”

“He is a terrific young player. He is such a unique player and is a load inside.”

Those powerful words spoken by head coaches from Ole Miss, Memphis and Colorado State were about Louisiana Tech’s freshman phenom, Kenneth Lofton Jr.

The forward was an unstoppable force of nature during the four games of the National Invitation Tournament, showcasing his talents in front of a national audience on ESPN.

In the first-round matchup, the Rebels chose not to double-team him. They probably regret that decision as Junior poured in 22 points to go along with seven rebounds in leading LA Tech to a 70-61 victory.

“It was my time to shine out there,” Lofton Jr. said. “I showed them what I have and what I can do.”

After the Bulldogs used some strong perimeter shooting –- 11 3-pointers to be exact -– to get past Western Kentucky, 72-65, to advance to the Final Four, “Junior” shined yet again versus an SEC opponent.

Despite the 84-62 setback against Mississippi State, he put up an impressive stat line with 20 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three assists.

“The result is not what we wanted. We were looking forward to playing for a championship,” Lofton Jr. said. “Playing for third place, it was an opportunity to end the season on a good note.”

That they did. Down 11 with 8:30 to go versus overall No. 1 seed Colorado State, LA Tech made its largest comeback of the season and defeated the Rams, 76-74.

The Bulldogs capped off the season with their 24th win and a third-place finish in the NIT. Lofton, Jr. capped off his freshman campaign with his best individual performance yet.

He played a career-high 34 minutes and dominated for much of it, recording a career-high 27 points to go along with 13 boards. He played bully ball, especially on his game-winning field goal with 0.3 seconds left.

“The play is how Coach (Eric Konkol) drew it up,” Lofton Jr. “He told me to rip it and go to the goal.”

Lofton Jr. was one of five players selected to the NIT All-Tournament Team along with Landers Nolley II (Memphis), Lester Quinones (Memphis), DJ Stewart, Jr. (Mississippi State) and Iverson Molinar (Mississippi State).

Among everyone who played four games in the tournament, he led all scorers in points (20.0) and field goal percentage (58.3). He was just as impressive defensively too, ranking in the top two in rebounds (9.3), blocks (seven) and steals (10).

Not bad for a freshman.

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