WKU preps for Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday

WKU’s junior guard T.J. Price (52) goes up for a layup during the first half of WKU’s game against South Alabama on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Tyler Lashbrook

Last Thursday, WKU manufactured a 12-point comeback against Texas State. Two days later, the Toppers surrendered a 19-point lead at UT Arlington.

Junior forward George Fant led the Toppers (19-10, 11-5 Sun Belt) with 14 points against Texas State and provided bucket after bucket down the stretch to help seal the victory.

“George Fant was huge late in the basketball game,” Harper told WKU Radio after the game. “That’s who he has to be – he was attacking that basket late, he wanted the basketball and we did a good job of getting it to him late.”

But against UT Arlington, the Toppers went cold late, as the Mavericks outscored them 31-14 in the final 10 minutes.

“We couldn’t guard them,” Harper said.

It was one of the few times all year that the Toppers struggled on the defensive end; the 80 points they gave up against UT Arlington were the most in conference play since they surrendered 87 points against Arkansas Little-Rock on Jan. 16, but that game also had five minutes added on in overtime.

“We couldn’t guard Reger Dowell and we put them at the free throw line,” Harper said.

Dowell, a senior transfer from Oklahoma State, ripped through WKU for a career-best 37 points.

The Toppers shot well from behind the arc, 10-of-28 (35.7 percent), but connected on just 15 of their 27 free throw attempts and never could get the game close in the waning moments.

But WKU doesn’t have much time to fret on a loss against UT Arlington. It hosts third-place Louisiana-Lafayette (19-10, 10-6) on Thursday in its final home game of the season.

WKU currently holds the coveted No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt. The second-place team gets a bye into the Sun Belt semi-finals, so holding onto that position is important for the Toppers.

But holding that position against Lafayette will prove difficult.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have two of the best players in the conference: Junior point guard Elfrid Payton and sophomore forward Shawn Long. Payton and Long are second and third, respectively, in the league in scoring – Long averaging 19.5 points per game and Payton following with 19.

Long is also the only player in the Sun Belt to average double-digits in rebounding (10.4). Payton leads the conference in steals (2.3 per game) and Kasey Shepherd has the highest three-point percentage at 54 percent.

“Elfrid Payton is special,” Harper said. “He’s probably a first round draft pick next year. He creates a lot of problems. If he could shoot the ball like Reger Dowell, he’d be unguardable. He gets the ball to the paint; he’s tremendous. It’ll be a tough game for us.”