WKU outworked in the paint, split series for second consecutive week

WKU Hilltopper junior guard Luke Frampton (14) prepares to pass the ball during the game against the LA Tech Bulldogs on Jan. 9, 2021 in E.A. Diddle Arena.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (9-4), (2-2, C-USA) fell short 63-58 at home against Louisiana Tech (9-4), (2-2, C-USA) in the second game of the opening home series in conference play. 

“I know it’s a forty minute game but we dug ourselves such a hole,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “From that point on I thought there was a different urgency in us. You have to be able to find that edge on the second night.” 

Following the game redshirt junior Luke Frampton was on John Oldham Court taking practice three pointers. He shot 1-of-7 from deep against LA Tech. Graduate assistant Jacob Hayslip stood by for rebounds for roughly 20 minutes by Frampton’s side. 

“We have 100% confidence in Luke,” Stansbury said. “He’s a guy that can miss seven in a row and then go make five in a row.” 

Entering Saturday, WKU was one of just 35 teams in the nation with at least nine victories. However, WKU found themselves in a pit holding the lead for a total of 3:06 against LA Tech. 

WKU came out the gates being aggressive but shots were being rushed and missed as they shot 2-of-8 to start the game. LA Tech found themselves in the same position, starting 3-of-8 with two of the three makes coming from behind the arc. 

The Bulldogs woke up at that point, going on a 15-0 run in a little under four minutes to go up 20-6 in nine minutes of play. LA Tech had a total of 28 points at halftime in Friday’s contest. 

WKU was being outplayed and couldn’t keep up with the Bulldog’s pace of play. It didn’t help that the Hilltoppers were down 25-8 with 6:26 left in the opening half.  

Although they were being beaten on the scoreboard, they were not defeated mentally as WKU went on a run themselves late in the half going on a 9-0 run to bring the deficit down to 11.

With Bassey on the bench, LA Tech stuffed the paint and was able to push the lead. Diddle erupted to the sight with Hollingsworth knocking down a corner three-pointer with 12 seconds left, bringing the deficit down to 14 at the half with a 38-24 lead. 

LA Tech shot 52% in the first half with four turnovers while WKU shot 33% with nine turnovers committed. Altogether WKU went roughly nine minutes without scoring in the first half of play. 

The second half start for the Hilltoppers was a flipped script, with a quick 7-0 run to bring the deficit to under 10 points for the first time since the 12:30 mark in the first half. 

“It’s obvious there to start the second half we had that edge,” Stansbury said. “Somewhere along that line the urgency has to kick in and we cut it to fourteen by halftime.” 

The sudden resurgence of the Hilltopper offense caused the Bulldogs to stop moving the ball like they were doing in the first half. They started standing around watching the ball with the movement remaining stagnant. 

WKU went 2-of-9 from behind the arc in the first half but halfway through the second, found themselves shooting 4-of-4 while LA tech shot 4-of-8 from three in the first and found themselves 0-of-4 halfway through the second. 

“We want to win, obviously we came out with low energy but once the game keeps going on, everybody on the team is dialed in,” senior Josh Anderson said. “There’s nothing going on inside our head but getting the dub [win]. Nobody is worried about points – just getting the dub is all that matters.”

LA Tech found themselves up seven with four minutes left before Hollingsworth was fouled on a three point shot, hitting all three, making it a two-possession game. Freshman Dayvion McKnight scored the next three points for WKU, bringing the game within one 59-58 with 1:28 left. 

The Bulldogs found some breathing room with a tip-in from redshirt senior JaColby Pemberton, forcing WKU to draw up a play for a three-point shot to tie it. Hollingsworth drove to the goal for a layup but missed. WKU fouled redshirt senior Kalob Ledoux sending him to the free throw line, hitting both, and icing the game. 

“I don’t think so, you have to find a way to push through,” Stansbury said when asked about if fatigue is a factor. “It takes a lot of energy to fight yourself out of that hole.”

Hollingsworth finished with 16 points, six rebounds, and three steals. Bassey finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks while earning his eighth double-double of the season. McKnight finished with five points, seven rebounds, and six assists. 

LA tech outscored WKU 40-22 in the paint and had 22 bench points compared to WKU’s nine. 

WKU will now play a home and home series next week against conference rival Marshall. Game one will be a home game on Jan. 15 with a 4 p.m. tipoff inside Diddle Arena. Game two will be on the road in Huntington, West Virginia in the Cam Henderson Center on Jan. 17 with a 1 p.m. CT tipoff.

“We just have to come out with energy. That’s just what I feel like it all comes down to,” Hollingsworth said. “We play back to back and there’s no excuses for it. We just got to be ready, be prepared to play before the game even starts. We just gotta come out focused and prepared.”

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.