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Louisiana Tech wins ugly against Boise State

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Louisiana Tech has made winning ugly an art form.

The Bulldogs defended well the entire game and struggled mightily on offense much of the game before finding the range in the last 12 minutes to knock off Boise State 75-64 in a Western Athletic Conference men’s quarterfinal game Thursday at Lawlor Events Center.

Louisiana Tech improved to 20-11 and earned itself a semifinal matchup against Utah State. Boise State finishes the season 14-15.

The win, according to Louisiana Tech coach Keith Richard, was a microcosm of the Bulldogs’ season.

“That game right there is very typical of our season,” Richard said. “We’ll guard, we’ll defend and rebound, but we struggle with offense along the way. Then along the way we find enough offense to win.

“Now I know how Mark Fox feels. His team shoots 29 percent on 3-pointers and they still won over 20 games. This was our 20th win tonight. We shot 33 percent. That’s a good night for us.”

When a team has trouble scoring, it better be able to play defense, and Tech can certainly do that. Pressure forced Boise State into 19 turnovers, and the 64 Bronco points was a shade over what Tech allows during the season.

“First of all, we got back in transition and didn’t give up the easy layup,” Richard said. “Once we did that, I felt we could guard their 3-point shooters. We defended the 3-point line hard. We knew they had scorers in the paint, but not enough to beat us.”

Tech certainly frustrated the Broncos’ top ball-handlers Coby Karl (6 turnovers) and Eric Lane (5 turnovers).

“Turnovers cost us today, and we didn’t hit our shots,” Boise State coach Greg Graham said. “We hit a couple of threes in the first half, but then we went through a dry spell. They made us work for everything.”

“They did a good job of pressuring the ball so we had to start our offense a lot higher than we wanted,” Lane said.

Graham said the Broncos tried to make adjustments, but to no avail.

“We were trying ball screens and flattening them out,” Graham said. “I thought we did the right things, we just couldn’t make shots.”

Still, despite Tech’s defense, Boise State had a 43-42 lead with 12:36 left after freshman Kurt Cunningham scored his only basket of the game, capping a 7-4 mini-run.

That’s when Tech took the lead for good with a nice 10-3 run for a 49-43 lead. Paul Millsap (19 points, 17 rebounds) started the surge with a rare mid-range jump shot and Chad McKenzie drained a 3-pointer for a 47-43 lead. After two missed free throws by Kareem Lloyd, Marcus Elliott scored for a six-point lead with 10:48 remaining.

“I’d like him to do that more,” Richard said.

“I think we missed some shots and we missed free throws at crucial times that could have kept us in it or slowed the run,” Graham said. “They are very good defensively. They are athletic and long.”

Boise State bounced back, scoring seven of the next 10 points, trimming the lead to 52-50 with 8:12 remaining. Lloyd hit a high floater over Millsap, Karl drained two free throws and Tez Banks (14 points) scored on a layup.

Tech responded with a 15-6 run to get the lead to double digits, 68-56. Corey Dean started the run, Elliott drained a 3-pointer from the left corner and Millsap scored on a layup. After BSU’s Seth Robinson scored from the right side, Millsap scored again.

Robinson drained two free throws to make it 61-56, but Trey McDowell (13 points) drove the lane and converted a three-point play, sparking a 7-0 run culminating in a rim-rattling slam by Millsap when Tech began to spread the floor.

Boise State defended Millsap well, as the 6-8 forward managed only five shots and four points. He scored 15 points in the final 20 minutes.

“My teammates hit shots that opened the game up,” Millsap said. “I’m used to the sag (defense) by now. Boise State did a good job. I’m happy I hit those mid-range jump shots.”

“I thought we did a good job on Paul, and he still got 19 and 17,” Graham said.