Some late-game heroics were on display in the Murphy Center Thursday, but MTSU's men were denied a close win after a hard-fought rally.
LA Tech (14-5, 5-2) brought its shooting touch early on to build a big lead, but the Blue Raiders (4-16, 0-7) valiantly fought back with a 25-5 run late before falling in a thriller 80-73.
"Early on, we just weren't active enough with our hands both on the ball and away from the ball," MTSU coach Nick McDevitt said. "I thought we started attacking the basket more instead of settling for long jump shots, and started getting back into the game. We were able to attack the rim and also get to the free-throw line."
The Bulldogs came out determined to continue what's become their calling card this season: get a lead and lean on their dominant defense, which went into the night first in C-USA giving up 60.7 points per outing, to get a win.
MTSU wouldn't let them out easy, though.
LA Tech shot 64 percent (16-25) from the field in the first half, including 6 for 8 from 3-point range, and took a 46-31 lead into the break before leading by as many as 23 in the second half before MT made a run.
MTSU sophomore Jayce Johnson, junior C.J. Jones and senior Antonio Green ignited the comeback, scoring 11, 10 and nine after halftime, respectively. The Blue Raiders cut the 23-point deficit all the way down to three with 26 seconds left, going on a 25-5 run in the game's last eight minutes. They just couldn't claw all the way back after the Bulldogs sunk a few clinching free throws.
Jones and Green finished with a team-high 16 points apiece, hitting six 3-pointers between them, and Johnson scored 13 after playing only five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Senior Reggie Scurry had eight points and six rebounds, all in the second half.
"I let my team down getting in foul trouble early, and I knew setting the tone early in the second half would give us a spark," Johnson said. "When we run our base offense hard, we get tough to guard, and that's what we did in the second half. When we get good offensive possession, we can change our defense a little and control the game."
It was a rough shooting night at times for MTSU, but McDevitt saw some promising signs offensively against likely C-USA's best defense, most notably their 20-for-23 night from the charity stripe.
MTSU turned the ball over only 10 times, four under its season average, and eight of the nine Raiders who saw the floor scored. Their 73 points were the second most given up by LA Tech in league play and fourth most this season overall.
"We were able to start getting some paint touches from our guards and some deeper post catches from our bigs," McDevitt said. "We need to continue that intensity in the paint moving forward."
Southern Miss will travel to the Murphy Center Saturday for MTSU's next at 5 p.m.