Tops Drop Conference USA Opener at Louisiana Tech, 74-73
RUSTON, La. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball couldn’t hold on to a 17-point, second-half lead on the road Saturday, falling 74-73 at Louisiana Tech in the team’s Conference USA opener.
WKU (8-6, 0-1 C-USA) led by 17 with 15:54 to go and by 12 with 4:08 remaining, but the Hilltoppers never scored another field goal.
Louisiana Tech (11-3, 2-0) outscored WKU 18-5 the rest of the way, including two free throws by Kenneth Lofton Jr. with five seconds left that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
“Getting beat sometimes is part of the game,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “I’ve had plenty of losses, I can handle getting beat. It’s those games that you give away and wrap it up. We wrapped this one up and put a bow on it. And it takes away what our kids did for 37 minutes.”
After Louisiana Tech opened the game with a 3, WKU went on a 9-0 run, including the first seven points by graduate senior guard Camron Justice.
The Bulldogs missed 13 straight shots in that stretch and went more than eight minutes without a field goal as the Hilltoppers built a double-digit lead.
Louisiana Tech shot just 18% in the first half with five made field goals, allowing WKU to go into the locker room with a 31-21 advantage.
The Hilltopper lead swelled to 47-30 with 15:54 to play after a four-point play by redshirt senior guard Luke Frampton.
Louisiana Tech made multiple runs at the lead and cut it to two possessions several times, but WKU answered those comeback efforts with timely 3s.
The lead was still 68-58 with 3:01 remaining, but the Bulldogs scored off a turnover and then added two free throws on a Hilltopper technical.
WKU never scored another basket, and back-to-back 3s by Cobe Williams tied it at 72-all with 15 seconds left. Justice made 1 of 2 free throws on the other end, but then Lofton was fouled with five seconds left and sank the pair.
Sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight’s 3-point try at the buzzer was off the mark.
“To be completely honest, they didn’t make many shots early,” Justice said. “They got hot down the stretch when it was important and that was kind of the turning point.”
Justice led WKU with 22 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, and McKnight added 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. Fifth-year senior guard Josh Anderson contributed 15 points off the bench.
Lofton paced Louisiana Tech with 22 points and 11 rebounds to extend the Bulldogs’ home winning streak to 17 straight games.
“I feel like we didn’t come to play until the end of the game,” McKnight said. “We played for the first 20 minutes and a little bit of the second half, but I feel like we didn’t finish.”
The Hilltoppers return home for a three-game homestand in league play, starting against FIU at 2 p.m. CT Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will air on ESPN+.