March 12 was already set to be a long day in Frisco, Texas at the Conference-USA Basketball Tournament Championships.
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs weren’t scheduled to tipoff their quarterfinal matchup against the Thundering Herd from Marshall until 9 p.m. (also known as the Late Show with Conference USA).
Neither team made it onto Court B at The Star that night.
In fact, the Bulldogs were pulling into the parking lot of the Thomas Assembly Center at approximately 7 p.m., a whole two hours before the jump ball at mid-court was supposed to happen.
The team broke down one final huddle.
Together on three. One … two … three … TOGETHER!
The sun was officially setting that Thursday on the Bulldogs’ incredible 2019-20 season.
Instead of going over the scouting report for Marshall that morning in the team meeting room, Head Coach Eric Konkol was telling his Bulldogs that the conference tournament was being canceled because of the public health threat of COVID-19.
Coupled with that was the cancellation of the program’s attempt to win the league title and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
At first there was silence. Then tears. Then daps and hugs for the four seniors – Derric Jean, DaQuan Bracey, Oliver Powell, and Mubarak Muhammed – who invested a combined 15 years into the program and whose collegiate basketball careers were suddenly over.
Ask any Bulldog. The talent, depth, and confidence was there to win three games in three days and advance to The Big Dance. The proof was in the 30 games that had already been played.
The team put together a 22-8 record, the most victories of any other C-USA team and any other Division I team from the state of Louisiana. Nine of those wins came during non-conference play, including a 74-67 upset win over Mississippi State’s Bulldogs in Starkville.
The other 13 came during league action, good enough for a tie for second place in the standings.
And they were one of – if not the – hottest teams going into Frisco. The ’Dogs had won five of their last six, including two victories each over contenders FIU and Charlotte and a thrilling 73-71 win in Denton, Texas, over top-seeded North Texas.
The stats also back up just how complete of a basketball team LA Tech was. They were one of only eight teams in the entire country to rank in the top 40 in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense.
The Bulldogs had arguably the best defense in C-USA. They allowed an average of just 63.7 points per game and held exactly half of their opponents to 60 points or less, something the program had not accomplished in almost 40 years.
Plus the ’Dogs had first-team All C-USA guard Bracey and Konkol, both the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Coach of the Year award winner and the winner of the Tommy Joe Eagles Award, the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches annual award named after the late Tech Athletics Hall of Fame player and coach.
The NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) rankings said LA Tech was the best team in the league. The KenPom rankings also said LA Tech was the best team in the league and had the Bulldogs as the odds-on favorites to cut down the nets.
Sadly, they didn’t get a chance to prove it.