Tech Drops Close One to NMSU

Louisiana Tech seemed to sail through the first three months of the season.

Now, the seas are getting rocky.

The team lost to New Mexico State for the second time in 10 days Monday night, marking the third time the Bulldogs (19-5, 7-3) have lost in their last five games.

A home game Saturday against Hawaii will be a warmup for what figures to be the most important week of the season. On Feb. 17, the team travels to Logan, Utah -- maybe the most hostile environment in the WAC -- to play Utah State. On Feb. 20, the Bulldogs play at Northeastern in a BracketBuster game.

The games are important for two reasons. One, after seeming like an NCAA tournament lock, the Bulldogs suddenly have work to do.

Second, both games are on ESPN2 -- marking the first two times this season the team has appeared on national television. NCAA tournament selection committee voters will be watching.

NEW MEXICO STATE 70, LOUISIANA TECH 68: Hernst Laroche grabbed a rebound off teammate Jahmar Young's missed shot and threw up a 12-footer, winning Monday night's game for the Aggies.

In a back-and-forth game, the Bulldogs led by as many as 15 and trailed by as many as 17, but the game came down to the final minutes.

Louisiana Tech trailed 62-60 and 66-65 before falling behind 68-65 before Jamel Guyton tied the game with a 3-pointer. Young and teammates Troy Gillenwater led New Mexico State with 20 and 19 points, respectively, while Louisiana Tech had four double-digit scorers.

NOTES, QUOTES

--There are many reasons for the transformation of Louisiana Tech this season, including the maturation of a strong senior core and the addition of playmaking point guard DeAndre Brown.

And then there is the development of 6-7 redshirt sophomore power forward Olu Ashaolu.

He is proving why his recruitment a few years ago was such a big deal.

Ashaolu had a reputation as a tenacious rebounder and strong finisher around the basket, earning interest from many major programs.

He originally picked Rutgers but ended up at Louisiana Tech because of the relationship he and his family had established with assistant coach Nikita Johnson.

Ashaolu has blossomed this season as a full-time starter, averaging 11.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and shooting 54.7 percent from the field coming into the week.

Ashaolu is a tough matchup for most WAC post players because of his athleticism and occasional ability to step out past the 3-point line.

"He gets better every single day," coach Kerry Rupp told New Orleans.com. "He's a hard cutter and is getting better at increasing his range. If you put a small, quick guy on him he can pound it inside, and if you put a bigger guy on him he can step out and make plays on the perimeter."

--Louisiana Tech, in the thick of the WAC race, drew a TV game for the ESPN BracketBusters event, heading to play at Northeastern on Feb. 20. That's a tough assignment for the Bulldogs. Northeastern, which was leading the Colonial Athletic Conference as of Feb. 6, beat Utah State at Matthews Arena in Boston, 64-61, back in November.

--Louisiana Tech entered this week ranked second in the WAC in field-goal percentage (47.6) and field-goal percentage defense (44.3) in conference games only.

ON THE SPOT: As the Bulldogs crawl toward win No. 20, they are getting one thing Louisiana Tech fans were unprepared for when the season started. They're getting attention. On Jan. 30, the Bulldogs saw 5,028 fans in attendance at Thomas Assembly Center -- the most in the three-year history of the arena.

Their home attendance average is the highest it has been in four seasons. With two nationally televised games on the horizon, Louisiana Tech has a chance to show how well it can deal with the pressure -- not only from the hometown crowd, but from all over the United States.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anytime you can play a good out-of-conference game, it's a chance to showcase your team and its abilities. But our mentality right now is to live in the moment, work hard and make sure we're prepared every night." -- Coach Kerry Rupp, on NewOrleans.com, on the chance to get noticed during the BracketBuster event.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: With middle-of-the WAC expectations, the Bulldogs have been able to surprise behind the senior trio of Kyle Gibson, Magnum Rolle and Jamel Guyton, while getting athleticism and rebounding from sophomore PF Olu Ashaolu and a steadying influence from junior college transfer PG DeAndre Brown. There are several tough challenges ahead, but Tech already has made this something of a landmark season, having received votes in the AP poll for the first time since 1985.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG DeAndre Brown, SG Kyle Gibson, SF Jamel Guyton, PF Olu Ashaolu, C Magnum Rolle. Key Subs -- F David Jackson, F Darius Redding, G Yonas Berhe, G Anson Bartlett.

GAME REVIEW: Louisiana Tech 65, Hawaii 60 New Mexico State 91, Louisiana Tech 77 Louisiana Tech 71, San Jose State 64 New Mexico State 70, Louisiana Tech 68

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Hawaii, Saturday, Feb. 13 at Utah State, Wednesday, Feb. 17 at Northeastern, Saturday, Feb. 20 vs. Boise State, Thursday, Feb. 25

IN FOCUS: Nobody said winning the WAC or contending for a spot in the NCAA Tournament would be easy. For the Bulldogs to make this season the most it can be, they will have to be great on the road. Louisiana Tech has three difficult WAC road games remaining: Utah State, Nevada and Fresno State. And then there's the BracketBuster game at Northeastern. It's a tough, tough road ... but it also provides Tech with the chance to impress the NCAA selection committee.

ROSTER REPORT: --G Kyle Gibson scored 32 points on seven 3-pointers, both career highs, Jan. 14 against Fresno State. Monday, Gibson played another strong game. He scored 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists in 38 minutes.

--G Jamel Guyton was probably the team's MVP, the reward for becoming more aggressive in the second half. Guyton didn't attempt a single shot in the first half, but made two 3-pointers down the stretch to keep the Bulldogs in the game. Guyton's two fouls limited him to eight first-half minutes. He finished the game with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting

--C Magnum Rolle's free-throw shooting binge is over. He had made his last 10 entering Monday's game, but went 2-for-5 from the stripe. Playing all but one minute, Rolle led the Bulldogs with 18 points.


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