RIGA, Latvia – Louisiana Tech fans are familiar with Kenneth Lofton, Jr. taking over a basketball game.
Now the world is too.
Team USA trailed at halftime Sunday in the gold medal game for the first time in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup. The Americans trailed by as much as eight late in the third quarter as a gritty France team refused to give up its lead.
That lead finally went away and Lofton, Jr. was a huge reason, scoring a team-high 16 points to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and one steal to help the USA complete an 83-81 come-from-behind victory and bring home gold on Sunday in Latvia.
Junior was limited in the first half, taking just one shot attempt while recording only one point. As the red and blue faced a 42-37 deficit at the break, they came out of the locker room and started to play through the post more.
Enter the Conference USA Freshman of the Year (and his massive bag of low-post moves).
He scored the first two buckets for USA in the third quarter. Down their largest deficit at 58-50 with 2:20 to play in the stanza, Junior powered his way for two more field goals and assisted on a triple to tie things up at 59-59.
France would not back down though, going on a mini 5-0 run to go into the fourth and final quarter with a five-point edge.
Playing almost the entire final 10 minutes of the game, Junior got even stronger. The Port Arthur, Texas native recorded seven points and three rebounds in the last stanza to spark the USA’s comeback.
His biggest bucket was his team-leading seventh, which came with 2:10 to go as the USA pushed its lead out to 81-76. His biggest defensive play came on the next possession as he picked the pocket of France’s point guard on the perimeter, which led to a fastbreak dunk.
His biggest rebound was the game’s last. He outhustled everyone for the offensive rebound to not allow the opponent to have a potential game-winning shot, securing the two-point victory and the gold.
He had an identical 16 points and seven boards in the semifinal game to help the USA outlast Canada by a score of 92-86. He also had 14 points in the Round of 16 blowout of Korea and 11 points versus Senegal in the quarterfinals.
Lofton, Jr. ended up leading Team USA in scoring for the entire tournament, averaging 13.1 points while shooting 65 percent from the field. He also ranked second on the squad in rebounds per game (5.3) and efficiency per game (15.0).
The Bulldog played like a bulldog. And even though he did not win MVP for the tournament, or even receive a spot on the five-man all-tournament team (to widespread media outrage) he undeniably played like an MVP, too.