Lady Toppers outscored by 26 in second half of 69-54 loss at FIU

Cole Claybourn

At halftime Wednesday, it looked like the Lady Toppers were on their way to ending a two-game road losing streak and achieving their longest winning streak of the season.

Instead, WKU (8-12, 5-3 Sun Belt Conference) watched an 11-point halftime lead disappear and went cold from the floor in the second half — shooting 26 percent from the field — en route to a 69-54 loss at Florida International.

It was Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles’ first loss to FIU (8-14, 3-5 SBC) in her eight years as head coach of WKU, and it was the Lady Toppers’ seventh road loss of the season.

“It was a tale of two halves,” she said. “We got very sloppy with the basketball. We had five turnovers in the first half, so if we have 10 or 12 at the end of the game, we’ve done a great job. Well, we end the game with 19, so we had 14 turnovers in the second half.

“It was another game where we saw our offense struggle, and then our defense was affected by our offense.”

Perhaps the biggest blow for the Lady Toppers is that they led by as many as 14 with just over four minutes left in the first half.

WKU shot 48 percent from the field in the first half, and sophomore forward Janae Howard hit four 3-pointers. After holding FIU to just 33 percent from the field — 29 percent from 3-point range — and limiting them to just one free throw in the first half, the Lady Toppers appeared to be in complete control of the game.

But they scored just six field goals in the entire second half and were held to just three field goals for nearly 18 minutes.

Howard said FIU didn’t change anything defensively in the second half. It was simply a case of WKU not executing.

“We’re just distraught right now,” she said. “At a loss for words. They did everything the exact same as the first half. They might have changed out a little bit on me. But other than that, nothing different.”

When the shots weren’t falling from the outside, Howard said they tried to dump it into the post to senior forward Arnika Brown and junior forward LaTeira Owens.

But even that backfired. Brown was able to draw fouls on a number of occasions but couldn’t capitalize on the free throw opportunities, going 3-of-8 from the line.

Trailing 49-42 with four minutes left to play, Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one on two straight occasions. FIU would hit a 3-pointer two possessions later to officially put the game out of reach.

Howard ended with 22 points, but no other Lady Toppers scored in double figures.

“We were just out of sync offensively and struggled getting the ball in the hole,” Cowles said. “Janae shot very well and we’ll take that every night, but we’ve got to have other people score for us. Tonight it was just tough for us offensively.”

The Lady Toppers head to Florida Atlantic on Saturday to finish off their Florida road trip. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.