WKU falls in its first C-USA game of the season after a comeback by La Tech


Alexandra Hendricks

WKU guard Dayvion McKnight (20) dives for the ball after it was dropped during the WKU v University of Louisville basketball game at Diddle Arena on Dec. 18, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU (8-6, 0-1 C-USA) loses its opening conference game 74-73 after a 17-point comeback and clutch free throws from the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (11-3, 2-0 C-USA) gave them the victory Saturday afternoon.

“Our guys were pretty good, that’s why I hate for this to be negative because we played our butts off,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “But that’s why you play for 40 minutes and you cant let the flow of the game menatlly make you do things that get you beat and I gotta help them not do that.”

Graduate Camron Justice led the Hilltoppers with 22 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Dayvion McKnight added 20 points, six rebounds and four assists while senior Josh Anderson finished with 15 points. 

For the Bulldogs, freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. scored 22 points, 10 coming from the free throw line, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Sophomore Cobe Williams had 18 points and five rebounds. 

Both teams got off to a slow start, combining to go 5-of-23 from the field with WKU having an early 9-3 lead seven minutes into the first half. WKU began to make the extra pass to get wide open shots, leading to them scoring seven baskets in a row to build a double digit lead while on the other end forcing LA Tech to take bad shots. The Bulldogs failed on 17 of their first 20 shots.

What kept the Bulldogs from falling too far behind was their ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. They were able to get into the bonus with over seven minutes left in the half while holding WKU to just two free throws. LA Tech shot 11 for the half.

Seven different Hilltoppers made it onto the scoreboard with Justice and Anderson leading the way with nine and eight points respectively. 

Jamarion Sharp only had two points in the first half but made his presence known on the defensive end forcing players to take bad shots, forcing players to change their minds attacking the paint and most importantly keeping Lofton in check, holding him to just 1-of-6 shooting. 

11 fouls and seven turnovers by WKU allowed LA Tech to keep things within arms reach as the Hilltoppers took a 31-21 lead into the locker room. 

The Bulldogs made it a focus to get Lofton going early in the second half, scoring five of their first nine points, getting into the body of Sharp. The Hilltoppers didn’t let it faze them, answering on the other end with McKnight scoring nine of their first 15 points.

WKU started 6-of-8 including a four-point play from redshirt senior Luke Frampton that pushed the lead to 17 four minutes into the half. The Bulldogs decided it was their turn to shoot lights out, going on a 12-2 run while keeping the Hilltoppers scoreless for almost four minutes, which brought the deficit to single digits. 

After La Tech brought it within four, WKU weathered the storm with big time shots from Justice and Mcknight that were falling all half. The two combined for 29 of the 42 second half points.

“We’re definitely one of the top teams in the league,” McKnight said. “We just let this game go through our hands.”

WKU did not hit a field goal in the last 4:09 of the game.

The Bulldogs climbed back in the game and tied it off a made three, but LA Tech fouled Justice, sending him to the line. Justice made one of two before Lofton was then fouled on the other end and hit both free throws to give the Bulldogs the win. 

“Our guys battled. We were pretty good for 37 minutes,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “You hate for one or two plays to change the whole flow of it but that’s winning and losing.”

LA Tech outscored WKU 53-42 in the second half.  LA Tech had 20 points off turnovers to WKU’s seven. WKU was outrebounded, outscored in the paint, and outscored in fast break points.

WKU will get a week off before its next game against Florida International. That game will be the start of a three-game homestand. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. inside Diddle Arena on Jan. 8. 

Men’s basketball reporter Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.