GAME NOTES: The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will try to keep hold of the top spot in the Conference USA standings tonight, as they tangle with the East Carolina Pirates at Minges Coliseum.
Louisiana Tech has reeled off four straight wins to move into a three-way tie for first place along with UTEP and Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs are coming off Saturday's 85-46 trouncing of Rice. However, that victory came on their home floor, and beginning with tonight's contest the Bulldogs will close out the regular-season schedule by playing four of their final five games on the road.
Meanwhile, East Carolina is opening a three-game homestand. The Pirates were also in action last Saturday and suffered a tough, 53-51 setback at North Texas. The loss was their second in a row and ninth over their past 11 games.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between East Carolina and C-USA newcomer Louisiana Tech in men's basketball.
The Bulldogs did not face a whole lot of resistance in Saturday's lopsided win over Rice, as they held a 41-24 rebounding advantage and forced 23 turnovers, which yielded a huge 25-9 edge in points off turnovers. The Owls, who came in averaging better than eight 3-pointers per game, failed to register a trey in the opening half and finished with only five for the game. In fact, no Rice player reached double figures in the scoring column. Meanwhile, Kenyon McNeail led all scorers with 17 points off the bench for a Louisiana Tech squad that boasts the nation's No. 4 scoring offense (84.2 ppg).
McNeail (10.2 ppg) is one of four different players to lead the team in scoring over the last five games, illustrating the Bulldogs' balanced attack in the absence of injured top scorer Raheem Appleby (16.1 ppg). Chris Anderson (11.7 ppg) recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards in Saturday's win, picking up the slack for Alex Hamilton (14.8 ppg), who shot just 3-of-11 from the floor and finished with eight points.
Like Tech's last opponent, ECU is also a dangerous outside shooting team that leads the conference with an average of 8.4 threes made per game, which ranks 23rd nationally. Of course, they also attempt a lot of threes as they rank 17th in the nation in that department (602). Akeem Richmond, a 36.2-percent shooter from beyond the arc, headlines that effort with his team-best and No. 3 league average of 18.1 ppg. Richmond is tied for first in the country with 4.5 threes made per game and is second in total threes made (117).
The Bulldogs put up a tough fight against North Texas but ultimately came up short when Prince Williams' final attempt was blocked with six seconds on the game clock. The loss spoiled another solid showing from freshman Caleb White, who had a game-high 17 points. He has scored 17 or more in four of the last six games. Williams chipped in with 15 points off the bench against the Mean Green, while teammate Michael Zangari matched a personal-best with 11 boards. However, Richmond managed only six points while second-leading scorer Paris Roberts-Campbell (12.6 ppg) failed to register a single point in 36 minutes of action.
Unfortunately for ECU, its outside shooting prowess plays right into the Bulldogs' strength, which is their league-best perimeter defense (.281). In C- USA play, Tech has held foes to an even stingier 24.5 percent from beyond the arc.
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