NORFOLK, Va. — Lousiana Tech started out shooting poorly and never really got much better.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, there’s more to winning games than good marksmanship and Louisiana Tech got enough of the other things right to hold off Old Dominion 71-66 on Saturday night at the Constant Convocation Center.
The Bulldogs shot just 35.2 percent from the field and were 5 of 23 from 3-point range. But their ability to rebound, force timely turnovers and not beat themselves carried the day, Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said.
“We’ve tried to base the building of this program on our defense,” White said. “On nights like tonight, you’re able to overcome your lack of scoring ability by just being very solid defensively.”
The Bulldogs did make some shots when it really counted. With the score tied at 51 and 5:18 left, guard Jaron Johnson made one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.
His steal and fast-break layup capped an 8-0 run the put Louisiana Tech ahead 59-51. Johnson then added a putback and a step-back jumper as the Bulldogs (22-6, 10-3 Conference USA) won for the fifth time in six games.
The Monarchs made things interesting late. A one-handed follow dunk by forward Richard Ross got them within three with 20 seconds left. But forward Chris Anderson and guard Kenyon McNeail capped a strong Louisiana Tech free throw performance by going 6-for-6 from the line. For the game, the Bulldogs made 28 of 34 free throws.
Guard Alex Hamilton scored 20 points, McNeail added 14 and Johnson 10 for the Bulldogs, who also scored 17 points off 14 Old Dominion turnovers. Two of the turnovers and four of the points came during the 8-0 run that badly damaged Old Dominion’s chances.
“We would have liked to have had three or four more (turnovers),” White said. “But we did get some timely ones, a couple in a row that allowed us to spread a lead there.”
Monarchs coach Jeff Jones said his team’s tendency to make mistakes at pivotal times is a big reason why the Monarchs (13-15, 7-6) are 0-5 against the top five teams in Conference USA.
“I can’t ask these guys to play any harder,” Jones said. “I think they’re laying it on the line. But there’s more that that in games like this. We’re playing hard, but we’ve got to be a little smarter.”
Old Dominion guard Aaron Bacote led all scorers with 23 points and guard Dimitri Batten added 17. The Monarchs fell despite shooting 46.9 percent from the field and connecting on 8 of 14 3-pointers.
“Lousiana Tech keeps the pressure on, offensively and defensively,” Jones said. “We’ve got a ways to go before we can win this type of game.”
Old Dominion held up fairly well early under Louisiana Tech’s pressure defense in the first half, in part because the Bulldogs could not make enough shots to set up their press. Louisiana Tech missed 21 of its first 25 shots from the field and their first eight 3-pointers until Hamilton got one to fall with 7:14 remaining.
The Monarchs, meanwhile, used 3-pointers from Batten, Bacote and Ambrose Mosley to lead by as many as seven.
Free throws kept the Bulldogs in it in the first half. They made 12 of 13 from the line to mitigate their 25 percent shooting from the field.
A 3-pointer by McNeail with 22 seconds left in the half looked to be enough to send Louisiana Tech into the break with the lead, but Bacote hit a layup at the buzzer to tie the score at 30.
Bacote had 15 first-half points to lead Old Dominion. Anderson scored 12 to pace Louisiana Tech, which scored nine points off eight Monarchs turnovers.
NOTES: The Bulldogs came into the game with an 18-0 record when forcing at least 15 turnovers. They induced only 10 turnovers in Thursday night’s 75-68 loss at East Carolina, a defeat that snapped a four-game Louisiana Tech winning streak. … Louisiana Tech is now 10-3 since junior guard and leading scorer Raheem Appleby went down with an ankle injury on Jan. 9. Appleby was averaging 16.1 points per game. … The two schools had never met in men’s basketball but share a rich history
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