GAME NOTES: Tied with Utah State for the top spot in the Western Athletic Conference, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs try to run their league mark to 6-0 on Thursday night as they host the Idaho Vandals at the Thomas Assembly Center.
Off to a 5-0 start in WAC play for just the second time since joining the conference back in 2001, the Bulldogs have actually won six straight games and seven of the last eight overall. Last weekend, Tech was pushed to the limit by Texas-San Antonio on the road, but managed to come away with the 73-71 triumph in order to finish off the three-game WAC run through the Lone Star State unscathed.
As for the Vandals, they are heading in the opposite direction at the moment as they try to figure out how to halt a three-game slide. Last Saturday, Idaho was pitted against New Mexico State at home and very nearly sent the Aggies packing, but in the end the hosts suffered a 71-70 setback. As a result, the Vandals are now just 2-3 in conference play.
In terms of the all-time series, the Bulldogs are ahead by a count of 10-5, yet the team was swept in the two regular-season matchups last year, including a 90-88 overtime decision in Ruston.
Against New Mexico State the Vandals trailed by 15 points at the break before deciding to mount their comeback bid. In the second half the hosts shot an impressive 60 percent from the floor, a perfect 8-of-8 at the free-throw line and 5-of-9 beyond the arc, all which left Idaho one point behind after 40 minutes of action. Kyle Barone led four starters in double figures as he recorded a double-double consisting of 18 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Connor Hill with 17 points and both Robert Harris and Stephen Madison with 11 points. Over the course of 15 games, Barone has emerged as the go-to guy for the Vandals with his 15.5 ppg. Shooting 55.7 percent from the field, Barone is also tops on the rebounding list with 8.5 per game so clearly he is creating many of his own shot opportunities. Madison and Hill check in with 14.9 and 10.9 ppg, respectively.
Kenyon McNeail raised more than a few eyebrows last weekend when he knocked down a record-setting nine 3-pointers for the Bulldogs, yet the team still had to squeeze out the two-point win against UTSA nonetheless. McNeail converted 9-of-15 shots out on the perimeter and 11-of-19 from the floor overall in 32 minutes off the bench for the visitors, while Chris Anderson was the only other player to reach double figures for the Bulldogs as he dropped in 10 points in a reserve role as well. The starting five combined to shoot only 7- of-24 from the floor. Even with the scoring eruption, McNeail is only averaging just 8.3 ppg this season, although he has become one of the more reliable 3-point shooters at 40.6 percent. Raheem Appleby maintains his spot as the top scorer with 14.9 ppg, although he isn't nearly as accurate from long range (.240) as McNeail is right now.
The fact that Louisiana Tech was able to survive even when its primary players were not really involved is a good sign for the Bulldogs. Not so much for the Vandals.