ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Louisiana Tech was so dominant in the first 13 minutes against Georgia on Saturday that its biggest challenge became avoiding tentative play.
It was a pleasant dilemma that Louisiana Tech overcame, though not without a late scare.
Alex Hamilton scored 20 points and Louisiana Tech led by 26 points in the first half before holding off a late Georgia comeback for a 79-71 victory in the second round of the NIT.
The Bulldogs from Louisiana Tech used pressure defense – full-court and half-court – to cause turnovers that helped create a flurry of transition baskets and 3-pointers. The Bulldogs from Georgia never led.
”We were, I guess, in a great rhythm at doing what we do best, creating turnovers and turning those turnovers into points,” Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said. ”In the open floor we got decent looks. … The early turnovers allowed us to play in the open floor, allowed us open jumpers and got us a lead that we were able to hold the entire game.”
Louisiana Tech (29-7) made seven of its first eight 3-point attempts while taking a 39-13 lead. The key was 10 first-half steals. Georgia’s 13 first-half turnovers led to 16 points for the visiting Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech led 46-27 at halftime and then faltered when it tried to sit on the lead.
”You preach don’t get tentative and at times I thought we got tentative,” White said. ”…We were watching that clock probably a little too much and we’re not at our best when we’re doing that, which makes us have to score against a set (defense). That’s not our strength, as compared to playing with the open floor.”
Georgia (20-14) regained its offensive composure in the second half, when Louisiana Tech managed only one point off six turnovers.
Georgia cut the lead to 72-66 with 1:08 remaining. Georgia’s J.J. Frazier, who had 15 points, made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 75-71. The comeback ended there.
Louisiana Tech will play the winner of Monday’s Georgetown-Florida State game in the quarterfinals.
Chris Anderson scored 18 points, Cordarius Johnson added 16 and Kenyon McNeail had 14 for Louisiana Tech.
Charles Mann had 13 points and seven turnovers for Georgia.
”I just didn’t play well,” Mann said. ”I didn’t take care of the ball at the beginning at all. I’ve just got to do a better job at that.”
Georgia overcame a season-high 22 turnovers by closing its 63-56 NIT opening-round win over Vermont with a 14-2 run. The Bulldogs’ again had ball-handling problems as Louisiana Tech’s pressure was too much to overcome.
”Obviously we had a terrible start and dug such a big hole we just couldn’t get all the way out of it,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. ”I thought we made a lot of mental errors in the first half and those are very costly because Louisiana Tech has a good team and good teams make you pay for your mistakes.”
White said Georgia’s turnovers against Vermont ”definitely” influenced his plan to turn up the defensive pressure.
”First of all, that’s what we do,” White said. ”That’s our strength. We’re always going to play to our strength. … We were eager to get back to playing more with our defensive identity. … The full-court and the half-court pressure were as important as they’ve been all year.”