Hilltopper win streak snapped in Louisiana

Senior guard T.J. Price walks to the locker room following the conclusion of WKU’s 64-63 loss to Belmont on Saturday. The Bruins hit a three pointer with 14 seconds remaining to win the game, as WKU fell to 1-2 on the season. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

The Hilltoppers traveled to Ruston, Louisiana on Thursday in hopes of extending their win streak to double digits for the fifth time since 1990. But instead, WKU (14-6, 7-1 C-USA) dropped its first Conference USA game in program history on the road to Louisiana Tech 69-56.

Along with the Hilltoppers nine game win streak, senior forward George Fant’s streak of eight-straight double-doubles was snapped. Fant scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds, but couldn’t lead the Hilltoppers over the C-USA second place Bulldogs.

“The pressure was the difference in the game. We had to go small to get another ball handler in,” Head Coach Ray Harper said on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network. “We had some guys that looked out of character against the pressure.”

The Bulldog’s aggressive press defense lived up to their reputation, forcing 16 WKU turnovers and WKU’s starters to enter into foul trouble early. Senior guard T.J. Price finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of the season and fourth of his career, but early foul trouble for Price and Fant allowed La. Tech to jump to a 31-23 halftime lead.

In the second half, WKU went on a 16-2 run to cut the deficit to 49-43 with 9:58 left but the Bulldogs veteran guards kept the Hilltoppers at bay. After trailing by 18, WKU had the game down to six, seven and eight on three different occasions but were never unable to reagin enough momentum to retake the lead.

“We rushed some things and didn’t do what we needed to do,” Harper said. “When we drove the ball, we needed to play off too or make the play from someone else and we didn’t do that a lot tonight we tried to make it for ourselves. We got to go back to the drawing board and get better before Saturday.”

The Bulldogs had four players post double digit points including guards Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton who both scored 17 points. Forward Erik McCree and guard Kenneth Smith both had double-doubles, McCree scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Smith scored 11 points with 12 assists.

As of press time, WKU and La. Tech are both 7-1 in conference play and are tied for first place in the C-USA standings.  The Bulldogs have now won 23 straight home games. The Hilltopper’s next game will be Saturday, Jan. 31 at Southern Miss at 5 p.m. central time.