Lady Toppers fall 61-63 in first home loss of season

Lady Hilltoppers watch the final seconds of a basketball game against Southern Mississippi on Jan. 31, 2015 at E.A. Diddle Stadium. WKU lost the game with a final score of 61-63.

Jonah Phillips

The Lady Toppers dropped their second conference game in a week and first home game of the season on Saturday, falling to Southern Mississippi 61-63 in Diddle Arena. They did so after notching a win over Louisiana Tech on Thursday. 

Against Louisiana Tech, WKU (18-4, 7-2) shot 82.6 percent in the second half (missing just four shots from the field) to come back from a 32-33 point deficit at halftime and win 82-66. 

“I am just super proud of this group,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said, after her team’s win over Louisiana Tech. “Coming out of the locker room at halftime we made some adjustments and changed some things defensively.  Offensively, how they were playing us, I wanted to kind of spread them out.”

The Lady Toppers could not carry that momentum through to Saturday, giving up a six-point cushion at halftime, with Southern Miss shooting 54.2 percent from the field. WKU led the game 25-31 in the first half, but was outscored by eight points in the second half. 

“That’s a loss in the conference. That’s what I’m worried about,” Clark-Heard said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. You have to be able to put yourself in the position where you could take care of business in conference and on your home floor.”

WKU (18-4, 7-2) shot just 3-of-12 from the free throw line and just 6-of-23 from behind the three-point arc in the loss.

“We’ve been turning it over, if you watch us,” Clark-Heard said. “I think the difference is we’ve been making shots. We’ve been making shots in other games. The shots that we normally make — we wasn’t making them today.”

It was a day in the record books for Chastity Gooch, as she became the fifth player in WKU history to reach 1,000 career rebounds and the fourth player in WKU history to reach 1,500 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. She led the Lady Toppers in the match with 17 points against the Lady Eagles.

“What a ball game,” Southern Miss Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “You come to Western Kentucky, and you look around at all the banners they have, the tradition, and the success … The tradition you see here is what we are trying to instill in our young players at Southern Miss.”

Senior Alexis Govan added 15 points and nine rebounds, while Kendall Noble finished with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists.

“We didn’t play any defense,” Noble said. “They were scoring every time, and we couldn’t get any kind of stops.  We really beat ourselves.”

The teams traded baskets for a good portion of the second half, with the score changing 12 times throughout the contest. Noble gave the Lady Toppers the lead with 2:28 left at 58-57, but the Lady Eagles responded with points from Tamara Jones and Jerontay Clemons, reaching their largest lead of the game at five points, with 24 seconds to play in regulation.

“We have to get better, and as a staff, we have to go back and break down what we need to do to figure out how to get us back on track,” Clark-Heard said. 

The Lady Toppers return to the court next week in a pair of games in Texas, traveling first to North Texas on Thursday, Feb 5, followed by Rice on Saturday, Feb 7.

“At the end of the day, this is our fourth loss. We’re 18-4,” Clark-Heard said. “I’m not going to sit here like we are 4-18. We’ve done a lot of good things, and we have to go back to those things and get those things done so that we can get better and get ready for next week.”