RUSTON, La. -- Brandon Gibson grabbed the offensive rebound with a few seconds left in the first half, wheeled toward the basket and put up an awkward running 10-footer between two defenders as time expired.
Somehow, it went in. Of course it did. On this night, nearly all of Louisiana Tech's shots did.
Playing as a nationally ranked team for the first time since Karl Malone was a college superstar in 1985, No. 25 Louisiana Tech cruised past Utah State for an 84-61 victory Thursday night, its 17th straight win to stay undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference.
"On nights we make shots to complement our ability to defend -- we're pretty good," Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said. "And that happened tonight at a level that we haven't done all year."
Gibson scored 20 points and Raheem Appleby added 15 as Louisiana Tech shot 31 of 62 (50 percent) from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs (25-3, 15-0 WAC) never left anything in doubt, taking a 15-2 lead in the opening minutes on the way to a 49-23 halftime advantage. It was a surprisingly lopsided game considering Louisiana Tech barely beat Utah State (19-8, 9-6) 51-48 in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 26.
Louisiana Tech used its constant full-court press and deep bench to frustrate the Aggies. The Bulldogs haven't lost in over two months.
Utah State's normally demonstrative coach Stew Morrill didn't even have the chance to get upset about this one.
"Tech played great -- the game was over early," Morrill said. "They established the ground rules by just dominating us early and we were never really in the game. It was a thorough butt-kicking. They're playing really well."
Gibson made 8 of 11 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, to lead a potent Louisiana Tech bench. The Bulldogs' bench outscored the starters 49-35.
"We're doing something special," said Gibson, one of two seniors on the team. "Trying to make history. We want to be able to look back at this year and say 'We did this' and 'We did that.' If we take it one day at a time, we'll be OK."
Louisiana Tech jumped into the Top 25 on Monday for the first time in nearly 28 years. The Bulldogs enjoyed a 13-week run in the national rankings while Malone -- the former Utah Jazz star and member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame -- was dominating the Southland Conference on the way to a run to the NCAA round of 16 during 1984-85.
Utah State was Louisiana Tech's first Division I opponent in nearly two weeks and the Bulldogs looked fresh, using their full-court press to frustrate the Aggies early. A few turnovers were all the Bulldogs needed to build an early advantage -- especially since almost all of their shots were falling.
Louisiana Tech shot 20 of 35 (57.9 percent) in the first half. Gibson led the Bulldogs with 12 points off the bench.
Appleby said the national ranking didn't change his team's focus.
"Going undefeated in conference, we've been the hunted all season," Appleby said. "The target might have become a little bigger, but it didn't change the way we approached our game."
The Aggies have lost two of three.
Louisiana Tech ranks fifth in the nation in turnover margin and forced 15 turnovers Thursday while committing six.
Utah State has managed a decent season despite rampant injuries. The Aggies came into the season with three returning starters -- Danny Berger, Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed -- but none of them played Thursday because of various medical issues.
Without them, the Aggies were simply outmanned. They shot just 20 of 56 (35.7 percent) from the field, including 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range.
Mike Brey is looking at former Notre Dame players to fill two assistant jobs that have opened up with the departures of Martin Ingelsby and Anthony Solomon.
Purdue's 2016-17 prospects got a jolt Wednesday when forward Caleb Swanigan announced he will return for his sophomore season.
Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame says he is withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to school for a final season.
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