After shooting only 26 percent from the field in the first half, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs scorched the nets and the Florida State Seminoles defense over the final 20 minutes in a 71-66 win at the Donald L. Tucker Center Tuesday night.
With the win, LA Tech (27-6) advances to play the winner of Southern Miss and Charleston Southern in a game that will be played Wednesday night in Hattiesburg. The victory was the program's first in the NIT since defeating Vanderbilt in the second round in 2002 in Ruston.
"We talked in pregame about having regrets," said Tech head coach Michael White, who saw his team drop its final three games of the season. "We all as a team and program we have regrets the way we finished the conference season. Whether we win or lose tonight, let's not have any regrets. I don't think anyone has regrets tonight."
In a game that saw nine ties and eight lead changes, Tech and Florida State were tied at 60-60 with just under four minutes to play. Tech came out of the final officials timeout with 3:44 to play and only six seconds remaining on the shot clock and inbounded the basketball to senior J. L. Lewis who knocked down a 17-footer to give the Bulldogs the advantage.
After two free throws by Okaro White tied the game again at 62-62, Kenneth Smith drove down the lane and had his shot blocked but Lewis pulled down the offensive rebound and scored, igniting a 6-0 run that gave Tech a 68-62 advantage.
Florida State (18-16) trimmed the Tech lead down to three and had the basketball with under 30 seconds to play, but Michael Snaer – who has hit six game-winning shots this year – was well defended and missed a jumper as the Bulldogs corralled the rebound.
Senior Brandon Gibson, who only scored three points in the game, calmly walked to the free throw line with nine seconds to play and hit both ends of a one-and-one as Tech recorded only its second win ever against a current member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
After jumping out to an early 6-0 lead in the game, the Bulldogs went cold, hitting only 8-of-31 shots in the first half as Florida State recorded seven of its nine blocked shots in the opening stanza. However, despite the offensive struggles, the Bulldogs used a stellar defensive effort and a strong rebounding performance to stay within striking distance, trailing only 28-24 at the break.
"We went into the half as a coaching staff just looking at each other," White said. "Florida State put on a defensive clinic in the first half. They were all over us on the perimeter and then when we drove by them they were pinning the ball against the backboard.
"We just told the guys to keep getting stops. We felt that if we could break through offensively in the second half, we had a great chance. We have great passers and our guards did a great job of getting to the rim, or kicking it out to a shooter. We hit a couple of big threes in the second half."
The Seminoles opened the second half strong, scoring seven of the first nine points to take its biggest advantage of the night at 35-26 on a Devon Bockert three-pointer with 18:09 to play. However, freshman guard Alex Hamilton recorded a conventional three-point play that sparked an 11-0 run as Tech forced four turnovers during the stretch that ended on a jumper by Raheem Appleby with 16:27 to play, giving the Bulldogs a 37-35 lead.
Tech shot 66 percent (19-29) from the field in the second half and 45 percent (27-60) for the game. Florida State shot 46 percent (23-50) for the game.
Appleby led the Bulldogs with a game-high 27 points – third most in an NIT game for LA Tech -- while Hamilton added 16 points. Appleby's 12 field goals made tied Anthony Dade (New Mexico, 1992) for the most by a Bulldog in the NIT.