Defense leads LA Tech past Little Rock

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Alexus Malone scored 13 points and Kierra Anthony added 12 points to lead Louisiana Tech to a 58-49 win over Little Rock before 1141 fans at the Jack Stephens Center Thursday night.

With the win, LA Tech (5-4) snapped a three-game losing streak and won for the first time in four tries at the Jack Stephens Center. The win didn’t come easy as the game pitted two teams that pride themselves on the defensive end of the floor.

However, Tech shot 51 percent from the field, built a 16-point first quarter lead and answered a Little Rock run that saw the Trojans cut the deficit to five points midway through the fourth quarter. The win was just what the Lady Techsters needed after dropping three straight games.

“We had to do a good job of continuing to stick with our plan and continuing to teach and not get frustrated and understand that they are going to make some mistakes along the way,” said Tech head coach Brooke Stoehr. “We said three weeks ago before we started this tough stretch that it could get ugly at times because of who we play.”

Following a disappointing loss to Clemson Monday night in a game that saw Tech shoot a season-low 29 percent from the field, the Lady Techsters came out red hot offensively against the Trojans. Tech hit its first three shots and 10-of-13 in the opening quarter to build a 22-7 lead after 10 minutes of play.

“I thought our team started the game very well offensively, getting the ball inside to Alexus,” said Stoehr. “She got us off to a great start. We moved the ball. We didn’t try to pass it inside to the post after just one pass. We got the ball reversed and changed sides of the floor and were able to really attack that way.”

Malone scored eight of her 13 points in a first quarter that saw the Lady Techsters shot 77 percent from the field while holding Little Rock to just 2-of-11 from the field.

The second quarter saw Little Rock find its offensive touch as the Trojans hit 9-of-11 field goals, including both of its three-pointers, to fight back to within nine points at the half. Little Rock forward Raeyana DeGray scored 12 of her game-high 14 points in the first half to keep the Trojans in striking distance.

“They are tough to guard,” said Stoehr. “They are so patient in what they do. They will screen and rescreen and after a while you get hit by 10 screens in a possession and you get pretty tired. I thought we did a really good job of forcing contested shots in the first half. That first quarter they went 2 for 11, and I thought that set the tone for the night. I think two very good defensive teams going at it tonight, and I thought our players really responded well.”

The two teams picked up their defensive intensity in the second half. Neither Tech nor Little Rock found any type of space or open looks on the offensive end as points were at a premium. The Lady Techsters took a 49-41 lead into the fourth quarter when the Trojans scored the first three points to creep to within 49-44 with less than seven minutes to play.

That’s when junior guard Kierra Anthony came through in the clutch. Anthony, who it a pair of three-pointers in the first half, drained a contested 18-footer as the shot clock expired with 6:36 to play and then on Tech’s next possession drove down the lane and scored on spinning layup, pushing the advantage back to nine.

“Those shots were timely,” said Stoehr. “She has looked really down the last couple of days. I think her heart is in the right spot, but she has been trying too hard. I told her at shoot around today that there isn’t pressure on her. We just want her to be who she is on the court. She just needed to see one or two of those go down. I thought she had some good moments for us tonight, especially those two big buckets.”

Defensively, Tech held Little Rock without a made field goal for over a seven minute stretch. Ronjanae DeGray broke the drought with a layup with 1:09 to play, but by then the lead was in double digits again.

Sophomore point guard Kierra Lang returned to the floor for Tech after missing the last five games with an injury. Stoehr said her presence was felt.

“She hit a big shot for us in the third quarter,” said Stoehr. “She just brings a calm to our team. I think it really helped Amber (Dixon) tonight be more relaxed. I thought Amber got us off to a great start tonight on both ends of the floor. Because of Kierra’s presence it allowed Amber to be much more relaxed and calm. I think having Kierra back takes a lot of pressure off a lot of our players. I think we came out tonight with a great sense of purpose and a desire to help each other out and not try to do too much.”

For the game, Tech shot 51 percent (22-43) from the field, 5-of-13 from the three-point line and 9-of-12 from the free throw line while holding Little Rock to 38 percent (18-48) from the field. The Lady Techsters outscored the Trojans 21-9 on points off of turnovers and 13-3 on second chance points while improving go 9-3 all-time in the series.

Tech returns to action Monday when it hosts UL-Monroe at 6:30 p.m. at the Thomas Assembly Center.

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