LA Tech grinds out 76-69 win over SHSU in home opener

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RUSTON – Injuries, sickness and foul trouble provided a lot of adversity for Louisiana Tech in its home opener against Sam Houston State.

The Bulldogs were able to fight through all of it, grinding out a 76-69 victory over the Bearkats on Sunday afternoon in front of 2,349 fans inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

LA Tech (2-0) had four players score in double-figures in the contest, led by sophomore Amorie Archibald who battled through a cold this week to put up 17 points. The more important stat though was four Bulldogs with seven-plus rebounds, winning the glass 43-29 with 16 second chance points.

“We knew we were going to play a good, hard-playing team in Sam Houston State and they proved that to be true,” head coach Eric Konkol said about the Bearkats who have won 20+ games in four of the last five seasons. “We got off to a good start making a lot of shots from the perimeter to get out to a good lead. But we knew they would keep coming and not just let this one go. The adversity we faced more than anything was foul trouble, a limited bench and the pressure created by Sam Houston State.

“In the times of a game when you don’t shoot well, rebounding can really keep you in the game. It did tonight. Without rebounding, I don’t think we come away with the win. The activity of several of our guys of just getting a hand on the ball and keeping it alive was huge for us.”

The first half was very up-tempo for the Bulldogs, applying constant fullcourt pressure on defense and putting up a lot of three-pointers on offense. The first nine points came from the same spot on the floor in the corner with sophomore Anthony Duruji hitting the first triple and Archibald following up with back-to-back triples.

Archibald made his third three-pointer off the assist from junior Mubarak Muhammed to give the ‘Dogs a 22-6 advantage with 13:42 to play in the first half, forcing a Sam Houston State (2-1) timeout.

The lead grew to 18 at 39-21 when junior Ra’Shawn Langston got in on the three-point action and Muhammed got an offensive rebound (one of his team-high 10 boards) and the putback.

However, the Bearkats then went on a 10-1 run to get the deficit back into single digits. Archibald was able to get an offense rebound and putback of his own for the final bucket of the first stanza, providing LA Tech with a 45-33 edge going into the locker room.

The first nine minutes of the second half was a completely different story than the first half. Foul trouble mounted for the Bulldogs and so did the turnovers. Nine turnovers during that span allowed the Bearkats to go on an 11-0 run and take their first lead of the game at 52-51 after two free throws made by Cameron Delaney.

Chad Bowie gave SHSU a three-point advantage at 56-53 with 9:43 to go, but that was when sophomore JaColby Pemberton and junior Oliver Powell stepped up with some big plays at big times. Pemberton hit a corner three, the only one of the second half for the ‘Dogs, to knot the game up for a third time at 56-56.

The two players combined for the next 10 points to force a Bearkat timeout, and swing the lead back in favor of the home team after a 13-2 run at 66-58 with 5:41 to play.

“Early in the second half, we had to quickly make substitutions due to fouls,” Konkol said of the Bulldogs who were playing without starter DaQuan Bracey due to injury. “Sam Houston State caught some momentum and really attacked. We had several empty possessions, turning the basketball over many times. When you do that, it is easy offense for the other team. Fortunately, we were able to re-center ourselves and had several guys contribute to that to get several stops and play better offense down the stretch.”

LA Tech went 8-of-10 from the foul line down that stretch and got a backdoor layup from Archibald to come away with its fifth straight series win over Sam Houston State and its 12th-straight victory in a home opener.

Duruji finished with 12 points, 10 of those coming in the first half. Powell and Pemberton were the other two Bulldogs in double figures with 11 points apiece as the team shot 21-of-48 from the field (44 percent) and just 8-of-27 from three (30 percent) while also sinking 26 free throws.

Sam Houston State also had four players in double figures, led by Delaney with a game-high 20 points, as the Bearkats were limited to 38 percent shooting (21-of-55).

LA Tech stays home to take on Harding on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the TAC.

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