Lady Toppers come out “scared,” lose to No. 25 Michigan State

Cole Claybourn

Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said for the first time this season, the Lady Toppers entered a game looking like they were intimidated by their opponent.

Cowles said that translated to the court, as WKU (0-4) lost 59-51 to No. 25 Michigan State in its first game of the UCF Thanksgiving Classic in Orlando, Fla., on Friday.

“This was a very, very disappointing loss,” Cowles said. “We looked scared on the court. I don’t think Michigan State had a whole lot of respect for us, and with the way we responded, I can see why.”

The Lady Toppers hung with Michigan State (4-1) for much of the first half despite shooting just 29 percent from the field, keeping the deficit to single digits. But the Lady Spartans put together a mini-run and stretched the lead to 13 just before the half.

The Lady Toppers were able to cut it down to nine at halftime after back-to-back baskets, including a buzzer-beater by senior guard Amy McNear.

They couldn’t keep the momentum going in the second half, though, and watched Michigan State stretch the lead back to 13. But a 10-2 run with just over 13 minutes left to play brought the Lady Toppers back within five.

But Michigan State would stretch the lead to 13 again with just over two minutes left and would eventually win by nine.

“We had spurts where we got intense, but we didn’t maintain it,” Cowles said. “That’s what we’re looking for – a game where we have 40 minutes of intense pressure. It’ll be fun once we get there.”

The Lady Toppers shot better in the second half – 45 percent – and ended up shooting 35.3 percent from the field. They also out-rebounded a bigger Michigan State team, 40-32.

But the Lady Toppers made many of the same mistakes that they’ve made in their previous three games – namely turnovers and missed free throws.

Despite getting their regular point guard McNear back from suspension in Friday’s game, the Lady Toppers turned the ball over 25 times, including five from McNear. They recorded just six assists on 18 baskets.

“It just continues to be a lot of the same things,” Cowles said. “How many layups did we miss down by the basket? There was a look of fright in our team and we never settled down.

“And missing eight free throws is unacceptable. A free throw is the same shot that it was when they were little girls. It’s unguarded, uncontested. You have all the time you need to shoot it.”

Cowles said it was another missed opportunity for them to pick up a quality win against good competition.

“That falls back on me in getting them to understand the importance of those little things that we’ve got to get done,” she said.

McNear scored 12 points and pulled down seven rebounds in her return to lead the Lady Toppers offensively, but didn’t give herself any credit for her efforts despite playing with an illness.

“I was frustrated because I did have a lot of turnovers, and the shots I did make were just little pull-ups that happened to go in,” she said. “None of us were patient with the ball, and we just couldn’t get in to a flow offensively.”

Sophomore forward Janae Howard had 10 points, and senior forward Arnika Brown added eight points and 10 rebounds.

Michigan State had three players in double figures and was led by Kalisha Keane’s 14 points and six rebounds.

The Lady Toppers play host Central Florida (1-4) tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in their last game of the tournament.