Malone, Cleaver lead Techsters to season-opening 64-53 win

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RUSTON – Louisiana Tech head coach Brooke Stoehr has said all fall that she feels like her team will have the ability to score this year.

However, in the season opener against Grambling State, it was the Lady Techsters defense that led them to a 64-53 win over Grambling State before 4,811 fans at the Thomas Assembly Center.

Tech (1-0) held Grambling State to only 27 percent shooting (16-60) in the win, allowing the Lady Techsters to overcome 24 turnovers and some poor offensive execution during stretches of the game.

“I thought defensively we made up for some of those turnovers,” said Stoehr. “I thought we created some turnovers and then couldn’t convert. I thought they were a little nervous but we have to do a much better job of being more efficient.

“(The turnovers are) disappointing. We spend a lot of time every day working on footwork and passing. If you can’t pass, catch, dribble and shoot, you are going to have a hard time scoring the basketball. We were all over the place today. Some of it was due to their pressure, but a lot of it was us just throwing the ball out of bounds trying to make plays on the fast break.”

Tech outrebounded Grambling State 50-30 in the game thanks to the inside production of Alexus Malone, Reauna Cleaver and Zhanae Whitney on the boards. Malone led Tech with 17 points and nine rebounds while Cleaver added a double double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Whitney added six rebounds in her Tech debut.

“I thought they were big,” said Stoehr of her post players. “Offensively, we felt like our keys were pound the paint, pound the paint, pound the paint. It took us a while to get it in there because we were turning it over a lot or taking quick shots. We felt like we needed to settle down and get some post touches.

“I thought they were active on the boards. It was a tough matchup for them because Grambling does run a five out offense. Our bigs were having to come out and defend on the perimeter. I thought they did a nice job of that. Defensively the set the tone for us and were able to clean up the glass for us.”

The game was back and forth for most of the first three quarters. After Grambling State took an early 6-3 lead, Tech used an 11-0 run thanks in large part to Kierra Anthony’s seven points to pull ahead 14-6. Tech led 19-13 at the end of the first quarter after shooting 6-of-12 from the field.

Grambling State responded with a 9-0 run to open the second quarter. Freshman guard Raizel Guinto drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key to stop the run and tie the game at 22-2 with 7:33 remaining in the stanza. Junior Taylor Stahly then hit one of her two three-pointers as Tech regained the advantage and eventually held a 31-29 lead in the halftime locker room despite 11 first half turnovers.

“We want to play fast,” said Stoehr. “We want to play at a fast tempo and not just walk the ball up the floor. You noticed a lot of our turnovers were coming because we were playing out of stance. We weren’t making solid passes with two hands. We were playing up right. We weren’t stepping towards the pass and meeting the ball. We were picking up our dribble and getting ourselves in trouble. It’s simple basketball. We will watch it on film, we will go correct it, and hopefully we will be better on Sunday.”

The third quarter saw both teams struggle offensively. Grambling State hit only 1-of-14 field goals while Tech connected on only 4-of-15. Tech led 41-35 through three quarters.

Malone came to life in the final 10 minutes of action. The lone senior on the Tech roster scored 10 points in the four quarter as Tech scored 16 of its 26 points in the paint in the frame. Malone’s jumper in the lane with 7:23 to play in the game gave Tech its first double digit lead at 48-38. After GSU cut the deficit to 51-45 with five minutes to play, Cleaver scored on a layup and then Malone followed with another bucket to quickly push the advantage back out to double figures.

“Just be simple,” said Stoehr. “Don’t beat yourself. We shot very well, 62 percent in the fourth quarter, because we took care of the ball, got it reversed and got layups. It was really that simple if we would have taken care of the basketball. Game one is no more important or significant than game 25. That’s what I stress to them. We have to continually get better every day. We aren’t going to change our focus.”

Grambling State was led by Shakyla Hill and Jazmin Boyd with 12 points each.

“Credit Grambling,” said Stoehr. “Freddie (Murray) has a great team. They are picked second in the SWAC and they have the preseason player of the year in Hill. They are going to have a very, very good season. We have to correct some things on our end, but I want to give them credit for their efforts.”

Tech returns to action Sunday at 2 p.m. against LSU-Alexandria.

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