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2021 CUSA Tournament: LA Tech, NT Win, Will Play in Semifinal

(4E) FAU 69 (1W) La Tech 75

Isaiah Crawford vs FAU. Courtesy Conference USA
Isaiah Crawford vs FAU. Courtesy Conference USA

Louisiana Tech was our pick to win the tournament based on the talent, the defense, and the coaching they have. Before the game it was announced that starting point guard Cobe Williams will miss the tournament with a broken finger sustained in the tune-up game earlier this week.

As it was, Tech looked to have the talent to beat a team like FAU. That is not to knock the Owls, but they were not overly impressive in league play despite their offensive ability. They simply had not played enough games to give anyone a real sense of how good they could be.

Call it a coming out party or simply a let down by Tech but the end result was that FAU was mere moments away from stealing a win in Frisco. CUSA Freshman of the Year Kenneth Lofton ended his rough night with a technical foul that got him fouled out The game was tied 64-all when Lofton was tossed. FAU made all three freebies to go up three. With no Andrew Gordon to back him up it looked like yesterday’s hero Silins would have a moment to shine for FAU.

Instead Isaiah Crawford took over. He scored 9 of the next 11 for Tech, including the very next bucket, followed by a rebound/steal, another bucket + the foul, and then closed it out with clutch free throw shooting the rest of the way.

One indicator that the loss of Williams will hurt was when Pemberton tied to run a set with :44 left and turned the ball over. FAU did not take advantage as Kenan Blackshear missed the first of a one-and-one and FAU blew their chance to tie it up. After that it was free throws for missed shots and Tech escaped.

(3W) UNT 61 (2E) ODU 55

Javion Hamlet vs ODU. Courtesy Conference USA
Javion Hamlet vs ODU. Courtesy Conference USA

NT’s Javion Hamlet had a slow start while ODU’s Malik Curry dominated early by going full-on attack mode and getting 14 first-half points. Hamlet had 12 in the second, including some game-sealing free throws mixed in with a huge floater that basically sealed it.

ODU looked like the team that beat up on WKU early, dominating the points in the paint and harassing NT’s ball-handlers and then running an effective break. North Texas’s defense locked it up late, and kept Curry from making too much happen.

ODU’s advantage in the paint was neutralized by the superior shooting from three by North Texas. ODU was +10 in the paint with their 34 points, but NT was +21 from three, making 9 of 20.

The game was low-scoring and a slow pace. The five point half time lead for ODU felt enormous in that context. Hot shooting and some active hands got NT the lead quickly and they held it — leading by as many as six — throughout the middle period of the final half. ODU got close after NT fouled AJ Oliver (a terrible closeout) and he made all three free throws, cutting the lead to just one.

After that Javion Hamlet scored 8 points, including two tough one-hand floater/jumpers. Mixed in their was a put-back by Ezikpe, a big jumper by Xavier Green and some great defense by North Texas.

It was close but Curry and ODU just could not find the offense to score when they needed to overcome that final 3-point deficit. Javion Hamlet was clutch, drawing fouls or getting buckets when the offense broke down and NT basically said “here you go, do something”.

ODU played better to close the season, and NT looked like they were entering a funk. Throughout the season, however, NT has been impressive and is in the top five in conference offense and defense efficiency.

Louisiana Tech and North Texas split in Denton this season. While NT has one more game under their belt than does Tech this week, the Bulldogs are down a couple of key guys in Gordon and Williams.

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