Mental lapses, missed free throws sink WKU in home loss to Furman

Freshman forward George Fant drives to the basket on Furman’s Chris Toler. WKU lost 76-63 to fall to 4-8 on the season.

Cole Claybourn

WKU continues to beat itself. At least that’s how Head Coach Ken McDonald and the players describe the mounting losses.

Getting over mental hurdles was the focal point in practice this week, but it was ultimately mental mistakes that did in WKU in a 76-63 home loss to Furman on Saturday night.

The Toppers (4-8) committed 28 fouls and converted just 12-of-25 free throws, while Furman (6-4) made WKU pay by hitting 27-of-34 free throws.

“This game got down to knocking free throws in, some silly fouls,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “We took 19 more field goals — 19 more — and only made one more field. That’s a pretty amazing stat.”

WKU never led except by one less than two mintues into the game.

Furman led by as many as 12 in the first half and took a 31-21 lead into halftime.

The attack didn’t stop then as the Paladins opened the second half on an 8-4 run to take a 39-25 lead.

But Furman’s 2-3 zone proved to be too much for WKU as the Toppers started to make their run.

WKU cut the lead to 13 and eventually to eight, but Furman stretched it back to 13. 

The Toppers were able to get within five with 7:34 left after five quick points from freshman guard Derrick Gordon, who hit a three-pointer and followed up a steal with a layup on the next possession to get the crowd of 3,192 on its feet. Gordon finished with 12 points.

But just like the rest of the team, Gordon — the team’s second best free throw shooter — struggled at the free throw line. He finished 7-of-14.

Furman then went on an 8-4 run in which WKU missed six straight field goals to take a 64-55 lead.

The Toppers were unable to claw their way back from there.

“I wouldn’t point to (free throws) as why we lost a game, but obviously it takes the wind out of your sails a little bit,” McDonald said. “You’re right where you want to be and you have a chance to win a basketball game but you miss a couple free throws.”

Junior guard Jamal Crook said when it gets to crunch time, it’s a matter of players “tuning in” and focusing. 

“A lot of it comes back to a mental thing,” he said. “Each day we just have prepare for situations like that. Each day there’s going to be many more times that we’re in that situation, so we just have to fight adversity and come together and handle it.”

Senior guard Kahlil McDonald said it wasn’t a matter of WKU running out of energy when the game was finally in balance, it was just mental lapses and committing “dumb” fouls.

“We put them on the line and they were making their free throws,” he said. “That’s one thing we weren’t doing. We’re working on (free throws), but I guess we need to get more time in the gym by ourselves.”

Crook and McDonald both added 11 points and were the only other players in double figures besides Gordon.

Furman was led by Bryson Barnes’ 26 points and 11 rebounds — all defensive — and had two other players in double figures.

WKU did, however, finish with more assists than turnovers (11 and 10 respectively) for the first time this season.

WKU will have five days off until its battle with unbeated and No. 4 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center at 6 p.m. on Friday. 

Crook noted how tough of a battle it will be, especially with how WKU has played lately, but said the Toppers will have to go in with a chip on their shoulder.

“We didn’t get this game, but the good thing is we get to play with a chip on our shoulder and just fight,” he said. “We’ve just got to play. We can’t let the fact that they’re undefeated get to us and get in our head. We’ve just got to play basketball.”