Conference tourney debuts tonight for Bulldogs, Demons

TECH BOMBER: Keason Willis provides explosive 3-point production for Louisiana Tech

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The men’s basketball teams from Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State take their first steps in conference tournament play tonight.

Tech tips at 6 p.m. in Frisco, Texas, against Conference USA foe Marshall, which stayed alive with an opening-round 74-62 victory Tuesday night over FIU. Northwestern is slated to start at 7:30 in Katy, Texas facing longtime Southland Conference rival McNeese.

The Bulldogs hope to claim the program’s sixth NCAA Tournament berth, but its first in 31 years, since 1991. Louisiana Tech has won 20 games in nine of the last 10 years but hasn’t made the Big Dance, instead settling for the NIT and other postseason events in 2010, 2013-16 and last year.

Louisiana Tech (21-9) appears quite likely to be playing in some postseason tourney next week if it can’t complete a run through the 14-team Conference USA bracket.

Northwestern (9-22) must win on the next four days to capture the Southland title and extend its season.

The Demons have three NCAA appearances under 23rd-year coach Mike McConathy, in 2001, 2006 and 2013, and played in the 2014 College Invitational Tournament. NSU has won the Southland Tournament to earn each NCAA berth, going 2-3 in March Madness, notably beating No. 15 Iowa 64-63 in 2006. The Demons have seven trips to the Southland championship game, and are 13-3 in opening games in the SLC event, under McConathy.

Tech opened C-USA play Dec. 30 at home against Marshall and blasted the Thundering Herd 79-56 in the only other meeting this season. The Bulldogs were 12-6 in the league but finished 6-6 in the last 12 games.

Northwestern dropped both its regular-season meetings with McNeese. The Cowboys won 93-84 in Lake Charles on Feb. 5 and prevailed in Natchitoches 80-75 a week later.

McNeese is coming off an incredible four-overtime 149-144 loss last Saturday night at Houston Baptist. The Cowboys had apparently won twice in OT, but HBU got last-second free throws in the second and third extra periods to survive.

Holding a 115-113 edge going to the free throw line with six second left in double OT, the visitors were in good shape, but missed both tries. The Huskies drained a pair of freebies with less than a second remaining.

At the end of the third OT, Zach Scott’s 3-pointer that hit the net with 0.6 second remaining for a 132-131 lead, but a non-uniformed player from the McNeese bench raced on the floor to hug the player who scored, and a technical foul was called. HBU hit the technical free throw to push the game into another extra period, then prevailed on its homecourt.

Photo by SADIE PATTON, Louisiana Tech