Lady Tops’ Senior Night spoiled with 75-62 loss to FIU

Junior center Jasmine Johnson and senior forward Arnika Brown fight for a rebound against Florida International on Senior Night in Diddle Arena. Brown had a total of 15 points and 10 rebounds and led the Lady Toppers in scoring. WKU lost 75-62.

Cole Claybourn

What had the potential to be a night for celebration eventually turned sour.

The Lady Toppers (12-15, 9-6 Sun Belt Conference) couldn’t overcome Florida International’s hot shooting Wednesday and lost on Senior Night, 75-62, in Diddle Arena.

FIU (14-15, 9-6 SBC) shot 60 percent from the field and gave WKU just its third Senior Night loss in 30 years.

“Wow,” Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “There were a lot of chances that we let slip by. You’ve got to give credit to FIU for what they were able to do, but I’m very, very disappointed. “

The loss comes on the heels of a momentum-building road swing that included a win over Sun Belt leader UALR and a 20-point win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

But perhaps the biggest blow dealt to the Lady Toppers on Wednesday is that the loss to FIU diminishes WKU’s chances at a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the Sun Belt tournament. In order to still get the seed, FIU would have to lose at home to Troy on Saturday, and the Lady Toppers have to win Sunday at Middle Tennessee.

The loss also guarantees a losing regular season for the Lady Toppers — their first since the 1981-82 season.

Senior forward Arnika Brown said it stung to lose on Senior Night, especially considering the significance of the game.

“What did go right tonight?” she said. “We simply didn’t get it done tonight. I know it was Senior Night and all that, but at the end of the day, even if it wasn’t Senior Night, I’d still be frustrated because me and my teammates, we didn’t get it done.”

FIU held a 21-13 lead midway through the first half and twice led by as many as 11. The Lady Toppers shot just 37 percent from the field while FIU shot 60 percent in the first half, but they trailed by just three at halftime. Junior center Jasmine Johnson contributed 10 points and five rebounds in the first half, and WKU closed out the half on an 11-3 run.

FIU scored the first four points of the second half to put the Golden Panthers up 38-31, but WKU then went on a 15-2 run to take a 46-40 lead with 12:49 left to play.

But the Lady Toppers lost their lead once again and never reclaimed it. FIU went on a 13-0 run to take a 53-46 lead with 8:40 remaining. The Lady Toppers got no closer than four points the rest of the way.

“This was really frustrating, especially coming off a tough road win,” Brown said. “We beat the No. 1 team in the conference, so this is a hard pill to swallow.”

Johnson said the Lady Toppers were the better team on Wednesday, but they just weren’t able to finish.

“We know we can finish,” she said. “We didn’t play to our level. We stooped down to somebody else’s level. We just have to move on and play Middle.”

Brown said the focus is on MTSU right now, and the Lady Toppers aren’t thinking too far ahead. She said the task for the days leading up to Sunday’s game is to rediscover the momentum that they gained after their road trip.

“It’s going to start with practice,” she said. “It’s pretty much do-or-die time. It’s pretty much down to pride — whether you want it or don’t. We’ve got one more game left, and then it’s tournament time. The ball is in our court.”

Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.