Late free throws sink Lady Toppers

Brad Stephens

The Lady Toppers were right where they wanted to be with eight minutes to play on Wednesday.

WKU trailed Florida Atlantic 33-22 at halftime, and to get back in the game, they set a goal to be tied or leading at the eight-minute TV timeout.

The Lady Toppers fought back to force a 50-50 tie with 7:26 to play, but faded down the stretch and fell 60-58 to the Owls at FAU Arena in Boca Raton, Fla.

Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said her team’s 35 percent shooting was especially frustrating considering her team committed just 12 turnovers, far under their per game average of 21.3.

“We were missing layups and shots right around the rim, both from our perimeter players as well as our post players,” Cowles said.

The game’s final minute proved to be an illustration of those offensive woes.

Senior forward Keshia Mosley grabbed a defensive rebound with 37 seconds to play giving WKU the ball late in a 58-58 game.

The Lady Toppers (6-14, 3-5 Sun Belt Conference) got Mosley a look inside, but she couldn’t convert on the layup.

The Detroit native battled for her own offensive board but missed the put-back layup.

FAU forward April Goins went up and grabbed the rebound and was fouled by freshman forward Chastity Gooch in the process.

Goins converted both free throws to give the Owls their decisive 60-58 lead with six seconds to play.

Sophomore guard Ellen Sholtes took the inbounds pass coast-to-coast but her buzzer-beating layup was blocked by Owls guard Kimberly Smith to end the game.

Senior forward LaTeira Owens said she found the over-the-back foul call on Gooch which led to the winning free throws to be questionable.

“They said it was over-the-back, but I thought she was inside,” said Owens, who led WKU with 18 points and added five rebounds.

Cowles said it could have gone either way.

“We’ve all watched basketball thousands of times or more and seen that kind of play, so it can be called or it can’t be called,” she said. “But there was a lot of difficult play in the paint at that time.”

Either way it was another road defeat for the Lady Toppers, who fell to 0-10 on the year on opponents’ home floors.

Cowles switched her starting lineup on Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 9.

Freshman forward Chastity Gooch and sophomore guard Chaney Means were replaced in the lineup by freshman guard Ileana Johnson and sophomore guard Ellen Sholtes.

That duo joined Owens, senior guard Vanessa Obafemi and senior center Jasmine Johnson to round out the Lady Toppers’ starting five.

Cowles said she was pleased with how her new lineup performed, especially Sholtes.

The former Louisville Mercy Academy standout played a career-high 35 minutes, scoring eight points and notching a team-high three assists and three steals.

“She led her teammates, and that was very, very good to see coming from Ellen,” Cowles said. “That’s a leadership-type stance she took. Right there with that opportunity given to her, she grabbed ahold of it.”

A Sholtes layup after halftime cut the FAU lead to 33-24.

Owls guard Teri Stamps answered with a three-pointer at the 18:45 mark of the second half to give FAU its biggest lead of the day, 36-24.

From there, WKU began getting some defensive stops and chipping away at the Owls’ lead.

The Lady Toppers’ biggest burst of the night was a 10-2 run in the middle parts of the half to turn a 48-40 deficit into a 50-50 tie.

Owens scored five points during the run.

But WKU could manage just eight points in the game’s final 7:26.

Forward Chenise Miller led FAU with 18 points, while Goins and Stamps added 11 and 10, respectively.

The Lady Toppers’ next game is another South Florida road date, this coming against Florida International at 4:30 p.m., Saturday in Miami.