Strong defense propels LA Tech to win over Southern Miss in C-USA opener

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RUSTON – Louisiana Tech allowed its fewest points on defense this season and got a season-high 23 points from Anthony Duruji on offense to propel them to a 71-56 victory over Southern Miss in the Conference USA opener on Saturday afternoon inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court.

LA Tech (11-3, 1-0 C-USA) extended a few winning streaks in the process. The Bulldogs won their seventh straight game, won their eighth straight in the TAC and won their 14th straight over Southern Miss (8-5, 0-1 C-USA) in Ruston.

The most important streak though was starting C-USA play with a victory, something the ‘Dogs have been able to do five of the six seasons in the league, and that was done in large part to their D.

“Defense was a major point of emphasis for us,” head coach Eric Konkol said. “It has been, but coming out of the break and talking to our team knowing that conference play was ahead of us, this particular opponent was going to create challenges with their guard play. Our defense was going to have to be locked in, and for the most part, I thought we did a good job limiting their opportunities and getting the type of stops we needed.”

Stopping the Golden Eagles’ backcourt duo of Tyree Griffin and Cortez Edwards was the biggest key. And the Bulldogs were able to do that, limiting the tandem to 13 total points (they came in combining for 28 points per game).

On offense, it was the three ball that helped the Bulldogs build a 26-15 lead that was capped off by a Ra’Shawn Langston triple with 7:20 to go in the first half. However, USM managed to slice the deficit down to three thanks to the three ball, two of which came from Kevin Holland.

The fifth three-pointer of the first stanza for LA Tech came from DaQuan Bracey to give the squad a 33-27 halftime edge.

LA Tech blew the game open though in the first seven minutes of the second half. They ended up going on a 24-6 run during that stretch and catching fire during it was Duruji and JaColby Pemberton who each hit three shots from downtown to make it a 57-33 advantage.

“I thought our offense came from our defense,” Konkol said. “We were able to get rebounds and run. It put us into a good flow offensively. I told the guys at halftime that some of the threes we took in the first half were tough ones. The guys did a nice job of sharing it and JaColby Pemberton and Anthony Duruji, in particular, got some nice looks and knocked them down.”

They each accounted for four three-pointers, both career highs, as the team sank 12 from beyond the arc on a season-high 31 attempts. From the field, the team went 25-of-57 for 44 percent.

Duruji added seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks to his stat line.

“Coach said to keep the basketball moving and we are going to find good shots with the open man,” Duruji said. “It is not really one player scoring. Everybody is capable of scoring and having a big night. Tonight was just my night.”

Pemberton finished with 14 points and Bracey was the third Bulldog in double figures with 11 to go along with a team-high six assists. Off the bench, Mubarak Muhammed pulled down a career-tying 10 rebounds.

Southern Miss was limited to 34 percent shooting from the field (21-of-61) as LaDavius Draine came off the bench to lead them in scoring with 13.

LA Tech will hit the road to take on North Texas in Denton on Thursday, Jan. 3. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on ESPN+.

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