Dunkin Dawgs to Finish Regular Season at Home

Louisiana Tech's late-season trip out West underscored the challenges still facing first-year men's basketball coach Kerry Rupp.

His team played well in spots, but faded down the stretch against Utah State and Nevada -- stumbling yet again over the twin speed bumps of inexperience and lack of depth.

Stick to the playbook, then get a few more guys, Rupp keeps saying, and these things might go differently.

"I thought, in the first half of those games, we played with great energy, and we hung with the game plan," Rupp said. "But with our depth, we began to run out of gas. They wore us down with their size."

Results: Two more losses -- 86-59 to Utah State, then 87-57 to Nevada.

Next up, Tech takes on fifth-place Hawaii (11-16 overall, 7-7 in the Western Athletic Conference) Thursday night at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston.

Neither the Rainbows nor last-place Louisiana Tech (4-23, 1-13) can improve their league standing. Rupp is, instead, intently focused on what Tech can still do to get better, starting with a sagging offense that sits at dead last in the conference, both for scoring (59.5 points per game) and shooting (38.9 percent).

For a young team still desperately trying to establish its rhythm going into post-season play, patience would be a virtue.

Slowing down the game could save their legs, too.

"We need to play late to the shot clock," Rupp said. "We do that over the first five or six minutes, then we get into a track meet. It comes down to toughness, and discipline. We have to play to the game plan. We've had some success with it, but it seems like we fatigue and go away from that."

This trying campaign for Tech has illustrated just how difficult maintaining that focus can be with a sparsely populated bench and a travel-intensive schedule across what Rupp calls "a road conference."

"You've got to bring your ‘A' game every day," said Rupp, who has played with as few as eight guys this season. "You can't go on the road and take anything for granted, especially when you are outmatched."

A presence inside would help. But that's something that can't be addressed until next year.

In the meantime, playing deep into the shot clock tires the other team on defense, and leads to higher-percentage looks. Set plays have time to unfold. Minds clear.

Make a basket then, Rupp said, and momentum shifts.

"You can bring focus and attention to what you are trying to take away," Rupp said. "Being in a road conference, you've got to be about to go in there and grind some people out."

Hawaii could be just the opponent to stabilize Tech's team offensively. The Rainbows have surrendered an average of 78 points over their last four contests, and allowed foes to hit on 50 percent of their shots.

Forward Kyle Gibson -- Tech's leader with 16.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game -- paced a near-upset over Hawaii last month in Honolulu, scoring 16 as the Bulldogs got to within 3 with 11 minutes left before fading in the eventual 71-57 loss.

Tech shot 58 percent from the floor that night.

"We've got to be able to do that," Rupp said. "The big thing is staying the course."

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