Louisiana Tech hasn’t won a conference basketball tournament since claiming the American South championship in 1991. Thirty-one years later, the Bulldogs have a shot to win the Conference USA Tournament title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Third-seeded Louisiana Tech defeated 1-seed North Texas 42-36 in the semifinals in Frisco, Texas, on Friday. Sophomores Keaston Willis and Cobe Williams led the Bulldogs with 12 points.
“We knew this was going to be a gritty game. Not just because of it being in March and it being in the conference tournament, we knew it was going to be because of the type of games we have had with North Texas in the past,” said Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol.
“We knew we were going to have to defend because we knew they were going to. It is something we have tried to get better at all year long. Our whole team did it today. We started off slow offensively, but our defense kept us in it and was able to help us hold the lead down the stretch to come away with a great win.”
The Bulldogs (24-9) will face 3-seed UAB (26-7) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m., Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
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Louisiana Tech rides 13-0 run
Louisiana Tech trailed North Texas 10-2 with 8:39 left in the first half and then the offense came alive. Louisiana Tech went on a 13-0 run, including two 3-pointers from Willis, to take a 15-10 lead with 4:49 remaining. The Bulldogs shot 1-for-12 from the field before the run.
North Texas has one of the top defenses in the nation, but was outscored 19-3 in the final 8:39 of the first half. Louisiana Tech held a commanding 21-13 lead at halftime with the leading scorer Kenneth Lofton Jr. held to three points.
The North Texas offense falters, despite stellar defense
Louisiana Tech was held scoreless with 15:43 remaining in the first half when the first media timeout was called. However, North Texas only managed to go 1-of-6 from the field during that span and it ultimately cost them a trip to the title game.
Five seconds after the timeout, the Bulldogs scored.
North Texas led the nation by holding opponents to 55.4 points per game heading into Friday’s matchup. The Mean Green’s defensive dominance continued. The Bulldogs shot 38% from the field with eight turnovers. However, North Texas couldn’t score.
The Mean Green shot 14% from the field in the first half and missed 11 of their final 12 field goal attempts and that continued in the second half. Ultimately, North Texas shot 24.1% from the field and 2-of-10 from the 3-point line. Thomas Bell had a team-high 10 points.
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Lofton Jr. delivers in at the end
Lofton led Louisiana Tech in scoring in both regular season matchups against North Texas. However, the Bulldogs were swept by the defending conference champions this season.
None of that mattered with Lofton at the free throw line with 50 seconds remaining in the game. The sophomore made two free throws to extend the lead to 37-32, while the Bulldogs missed 14 of their last 15 field goal attempts. He hit two more free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Lofton finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.