Howard’s hot shooting pushes Lady Toppers to win over Grambling

Howards hot shooting pushes Lady Toppers to win over Grambling

Zach Greenwell

The Lady Toppers said they struggled with mental lapses against Grambling State Sunday.

But sophomore forward Janae Howard was there to keep them on point.

Howard netted seven 3-pointers and scored a game-high 26 points, as WKU (4-6) picked up a 60-43 win over Grambling in Diddle Arena.

“Today, I don’t know that we categorize it as a pretty win, but it’s a win nonetheless,” Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “It’s just an opportunity for our team to take a positive team forward and hopefully gain some momentum now, with putting together two back-to-back.”

Howard came into the game shooting just 30.9 percent from 3-point range and had seen her playing time decrease recently.

But she came off the bench Sunday with a barrage of shots, including one that rattled around the rim before falling, and one that she banked in from the corner.

“I’ve never been that lucky in my life,” Howard said. “Every time it went up, it went in. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was blessed tonight. The last few games I’ve been in a funk, but I’m trying to get back.”

The Lady Toppers turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, helping Grambling (4-7) hang around.

A free throw by Grambling’s Secrett Anderson tied the game at 14-14 with 9:20 left in the first half, but WKU answered with a 14-0 run.

The Lady Toppers got four consecutive 3-pointers during that spurt, including three from Howard.

“It’s a great confidence boost for her,” Cowles said of Howard. “We need her to have that kind of confidence to shoot the basketball. Janae’s a smart basketball player and understands what a good shot is, and she’s a great shooter.”

Howard was later fouled on a 3-point shot with 1.6 seconds left in the first, and she made all three free throws to give WKU a 35-21 halftime lead.

Grambling opened the second half on a 9-3 run to close its deficit to 38-30 with 13:17 left, but Howard shut the door once again.

Junior forward LaTeira Owens first sent the lead back to double digits with a jumper, and Howard drained two more 3-pointers. Owens followed with a layup to give the Lady Toppers a 10-0 run and their largest lead of the game at 48-30 with 10:18 remaining.

“It felt good to finally get in there and get a flow going instead of coming in and making a mistake, coming back out and getting cold again,” Howard said. “(Cowles) kept me out there because I was playing the way I was supposed to play, and it felt good to get a rhythm going.”

Grambling was never able to cut WKU’s advantage to single digits again, and Howard added a final 3-pointer with 14 seconds left for good measure.

While the final margin showed a sound victory, senior forward Arnika Brown said the team needed some of those crucial runs to cover up mistakes.

“We were focused in and out in spurts there, but we’ve just got to be focused for 40 minutes,” Brown said. “It wasn’t the prettiest win, but it’s one of those where you say, ‘A win’s a win.'”

WKU held Grambling to 30.9 percent shooting and four assists with 22 turnovers, but the Lady Toppers turned the ball over 18 times themselves.

Despite Howard’s 7-of-10 performance from behind the arc, WKU shot just 37.5 percent for the game.

“Why did they cut it to eight? Because we had a letdown,” Cowles said. “I would like to see us not quite get in that situation and continue more consistently across the board with our effort and our defense.”

Owens, Brown and senior guard Amy McNear each had eight points behind Howard’s standout performance.

Owens and Brown combined for 18 rebounds, and McNear had nine assists. That gives her 19 assists in WKU’s last two contests.

“It just demonstrates not only how unselfish she is, but just how well she sees the basketball floor,” Cowles said. “Amy has done a good job for four years of keeping her head up, but she really rewarded some people today for getting out and running.”

Rachelle Dobbins led Grambling with 12 points.

WKU heads back to the road next for a game at Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Lady Toppers lost an overtime thriller in Nashville last season, and Cowles said she expects a fight again this time as long as they bring the effort for a full 40 minutes.

“I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what the buttons are that we have to push, but we can’t go to Nashville and lose focus on Tuesday night,” she said. “It takes everybody on this basketball team.”