The box score was nearly identical on both sides after Samford played host to Louisiana Tech on Friday afternoon at the Pete Hanna Center. Louisiana Tech made one more 3-pointer and won the non-conference game, 79-76.
"That's the reality when it comes down to it," said Samford head coach Bucky McMillan. "The intensity was great from both sides. When it comes down to it, it's usually going to be a play here, a play there. That's the truth. Those are the games you love to play. Those are the games you love to coach in."
The matchup between one of the Southern Conference favorites and an underappreciated Conference USA team, which will make noise in conference play, certainly included plenty of entertaining moments. Louisiana Tech jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half and did so again after halftime. Samford clawed back to take a halftime lead and nearly did it again in the second half.
Samford (6-1) had trouble with turnovers, losing the basketball 23 times, and Louisiana Tech turned that into 27 points. On the other end, though, Samford forced 18 turnovers and scored 28 points off those miscues. Samford had some trouble at the free throw line – hitting 21 of 30 – but Louisiana Tech also struggled from the stripe, hitting 21 of 31. Many of the Louisiana Tech misses came in the final minutes as they were trying to protect a slim lead.
"If it's a 40-point game, sometimes you don't notice those mistakes," McMillan said. "But, if it's a one, two, three-point game, you go back to those 20-25 mistakes – you miss a free throw block out, maybe you don't get a loose ball, maybe we run a play wrong, we don't execute, maybe we throw a pass away. You can really watch those and say, alright, that may have been the difference in the game. It may be the first play of the game, it may be the last play of the game. It makes you tighten up as a team."
One of the highlights was a matchup between a pair of marvelous point guards. Samford's Ques Glover, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, had a game-high 26 points to go with four assists, three steals, and five turnovers in 29 minutes. Louisiana Tech's Cobe Williams, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, had 25 points, four 3-pointers, an assist, a steal, and three turnovers in 30 minutes.
Williams helped Louisiana Tech get off to a quick start. Louisiana used a 14-0 run to build an 11-point lead and led 28-12 at just under the midway mark of the first half. Glover scored five of the first eight points in an 18-2 run to tie the game at 30 late in the opening half. Samford took a 35-33 lead into halftime.
"We talked about, at half, that we had to come out and have a good second-half start," McMillan said. "We hadn't started well in the second half. That's going to change if we have to change personnel. We have to start second halves better."
This time, Louisiana Tech scored the first 11 points before Glover drove for a bucket. Louisiana Tech responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by Isaiah Crawford (22 points) and Keaston Willis (17 points) and eventually led 62-45 with 10:23 remaining.
Samford calmly inched back into the game, largely by getting stops and points off full-court pressure.
"We're used to playing attacking defense, so it's not anything new for us to have to press, get up and try to turn a team over," McMillan said. "We were down at one point by 17. All we talked about was all we've got to do is try to get this thing to single digits under a minute. That's the goal. We do that, we've got a great chance to win. Most teams, when they get to that spot, they try to make the 17-pointer."
A 13-0 run that began with a Nathan Johnson 3-pointer with 4:41 left trimmed the deficit to 73-70 with 1:46 remaining. A big sequence came with about 30 seconds left when Samford's A.J. Staton-McCray grabbed a steal, pushed the ball in transition and fed it to Bubba Parham outside the arc. Parham missed the shot, making him 1 of 8 on 3-pointers in the game.
"Bubba is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league," McMillan said. "If we have that one right there, we're going to take it every time.
Louisiana Tech held on for the win, but Samford takes some important lessons as it moves forward following the first loss of the season.
"We got to get ready for SoCon play," McMillan said. "We've got to play teams that can get us ready. That was a really good defensive team. I don't know if we'll see too many better defensive teams than that."
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