If Louisiana Tech is going to capture the Conference USA title in its first year in the league, the Bulldogs are probably going to have to do it with their leading scorer watching from the bench.
The school announced Wednedsday that junior guard Raheem Appleby will miss at least six to eight weeks after an MRI revealed ligament damage in the ankle he injured in last Thursday's league opener against Florida Atlantic. Season-ending surgery remains a possibility if doctors deem it necessary, but Louisiana Tech coach Michael White told Yahoo Sports via text that he hasn't given up on the possibility of Appleby returning in time for the Conference USA tournament March 11-15.
The loss of Appleby is a devastating blow to a Louisiana Tech team that is 14-3 overall and boasts a win at Oklahoma in non-league play.
When White signed Appleby late in his senior year of high school, the 6-foot-3 guard weighed less than 140 pounds and only had scholarship offers from the Bulldogs and a Division II college in his native Arkansas. Appleby has since emerged as one of the better mid-major guards in the nation, emerging as Louisiana Tech's lone double digit scorer last season and averaging a team-high 16.1 points this year.
White said he will turn to the trio of seniors Jaron Johnson, Cordarius Johnson and Kenyon McNeail in hopes they can collectively help replace Appleby's production. Cordarius Johnson started in place of Appleby in a victory over Florida International, but it was McNeail and Jaron Johnson who had the better performances, combining for 30 points, 17 rebounds and four steals off the bench.
More performances like that give Louisiana Tech hope of surviving without Appleby.
In a wide-open league that has only Southern Mississippi in the RPI Top 50, Louisiana Tech had as good a chance of anyone of winning the conference title. Now the Bulldogs probably will have a harder time staving off the likes of the Golden Eagles, UTEP, UAB and Charlotte as they vie for the Conference USA crown.