LA Tech pulls away to down NC Central, 69-60

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RUSTON – After trailing at halftime for the first time at home all season, Louisiana Tech used a second-half surge to pull away from North Carolina Central with a final score of 69-60 on Tuesday night inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

LA Tech (8-3) found itself down two at intermission, due largely to nine turnovers and the inability to solve the zone of NC Central (3-10).

The Bulldogs took care of the basketball though in the second stanza (only turning it over three times) while also knocking down 14 free throws and pulling down nine offensive rebounds which they converted into 18 second-chance points.

“It was a totally different game than we’ve played this season,” said head coach Eric Konkol. “Give NC Central a lot of credit. They were crisp on offense. The real difference in the first half was us taking a lot of threes and not getting it into the paint as much. In the second half, we got in the paint and crashed the glass really well. Our second-chance points and getting to the free throw line won us the game.”

Derric Jean opened the contest with a three-pointer, but the Eagles responded with a 12-0 run that included three straight three-pointers, two of which came from Ty Graves to force a timeout by coach Konkol.

LA Tech chipped away at the deficit, but never could regain the lead in the first half and ultimately were down 30-28 at the break.

With the game going back-and-forth in the early part of the second half, the Bulldogs finally strung together some stops and cashed in on offense, going on an 8-0 run that was ignited by Mubarak Muhammed. It gave the home team a 44-36 edge with 12:17 remaining.

Muhammed, who played only two minutes and recorded zero points and one board in the first half due to foul trouble, was a beast inside. He ended up with 14 points and a game-high eight boards.

“Mo is such a big part of this team,” said Konkol. “He has a great mentality and is so aggressive. He brings it every single day. This type of game with fewer possessions, slower possessions, you have to stay locked in. He provides that for us. He made such a big difference in the second half.”

While he was doing damage from the inside, Kalob Ledoux and Jean were doing damage from the outside against the zone. Each made three three-pointers and each notched a team-high 15 points.

One of Jean’s threes gave the ‘Dogs their largest lead of the game at 59-45 with 5:08 to go, but the Eagles would not go away. They made seven of their last eight field goal attempts, but LA Tech managed to improve to 6-0 at home by making its free throws down the stretch.

The squad ended up going 17-of-21 (81 percent) from the foul line, had a plus-seven in the turnover margin and netted a total of 24 second-half points (third time this season with 20+).

“We felt like winning the turnover margin was going to be a big part of this game,” said Konkol. “NC Central turns people over a lot. Their game plan was a difficult one to go up against. We were able to take care of the basketball in the second half and were able to get good shots.”

For Jean, the 15 points was a season high and the senior is now four points away from reaching 1,000 for his career. For Ledoux, the junior made his return after missing the game against UL-Lafayette and scored in double figures for a fourth straight time.

NCCU shot the ball extremely well, going 23-of-42 from the field and 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. The Eagles had four players in double figures, led by Graves who had 17.

LA Tech wraps up non-conference play on Saturday, Dec. 21 against SUNO. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. in the TAC.

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