Louisiana Tech is headed to the third round of the NIT. The Bulldogs will host Georgetown or travel to FSU. / Ben Breland/Special to The Times
ATHENS, GA. — Louisiana Tech made its way onto the court at 11 a.m. local time for a second-round NIT game Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum.
Apparently someone forgot to send the memo to No. 3 Georgia, a message that was finally delivered at halftime.
Third-seeded Tech, which led by as many as 26 points, survived a late rally to earn a 79-71 win and a berth in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
“It was a very good win for our program being able to win our second in such a prestigious tournament,” Tech coach Michael White. “To be able to back that up with a very solid win at an SEC school is just terrific for the continual building of Louisiana Tech basketball.”
The victory also tied a program record for most wins in a season, which was established in 1984-85 when Tech went 29-3.
The Bulldogs (29-7), who are in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986, will play the winner of Monday’s second-round game between top seed Florida State and No. 4 Georgetown. If the Hoyas pull the upset, the Bulldogs would host another home game with a trip to New York City on the line.
Saturday’s win could have been much easier, but Georgia wouldn’t go away in the final two minutes thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers and some help from Tech’s cold offense.
J.J. Frazier banked in a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to cut the lead to 75-71, but some free throws and a two-handed dunk from Michale Kyser, who had six points, six rebounds and seven blocks, sealed the Bulldogs’ win.
“We were in a great rhythm at doing what we do best — creating turnovers and turning those turnovers into points in the open floor,” White said. “Knowing how good Georgia is, especially in the half court defensively, that was key. The early turnovers that allowed us to play in the open floor for jumpers got us a lead that we were fortunately able to hold onto for the rest of the game.”
Alex Hamilton led Tech with 20 points, and Chris Anderson muscled in 18. Cordarius Johnson and Kenyon McNeail came off the bench to add 16 and 15, respectively.
Thanks to a 22-4 run to start the game that stunned the crowd, to go along with 19 Georgia turnovers, Tech was able to hang on despite another cold shooting stretch in the second half.
“We talked about it all week coming out and starting with our pressure and try and force them to turn the ball over,” Hamilton said. “That was the biggest key to the game. That gave us a little run and people were hitting shots and it just led to a big lead.”
Fresh off a last-second win over Iona on Wednesday, Tech wasted little time blowing the game up and took a 39-13 lead on Johnson’s first-half layup.
Everything went in at first as the Bulldogs made 15 of their first 21 field goals (71 percent), including 7-of-8 from the 3-point line, and shot 53 percent to take a 46-27 lead into the break.
Tech’s defense was just as much of a factor, though. Georgia averaged 12.9 turnovers per game and piled up 13 in the first 20 minutes alone. The pressure was relentless from the tip, forcing Georgia coach Mark Fox to call four timeouts in the first 13 minutes to try and stop the bleeding.
“Obviously we had a terrible start and dug such a big hole that we couldn’t make it all the way out of,” Fox said. “I thought we made a lot of mental errors in the first half and those were very costly. Louisiana Tech has a good team and good teams make you pay for mistakes.
“The bus had to run over us five times before we started playing.”
The score stayed in place for most of the game until Brandon Morris’ lay in with 6:46 left brought the margin to within single-digits for the first time since an 11-2 advantage early in the game.
The same shots that fell in the first half clanked off the rim in the second half. Tech managed just four points during a 7:19 span that saw the Bulldogs connect on just 2-of-9 field-goal attempts.
On many of the sequences, Tech more or less fired up desperation shots with the shot clock winding down as Georgia forced the Bulldogs to play in the half court.
“You preach let’s not be tentative, let’s not be tentative, but I thought we got tentative both offensively and defensively,” White said. “Some of it’s me. You’re watching that clock probably a little bit too much and we’re not at our best when we’re doing that, which makes us have to score against a set D. That’s not our strength compared to playing in the open floor.”
Tech won down the stretch without point guard Speedy Smith, who banged up his knee with 1:18 to play when going for a loose ball. Smith never returned, but the injury doesn’t appear serious. He’ll undergo minor treatment back in Ruston and should be ready to play Wednesday.