Western Kentucky led for nearly the entire night – then survived a frantic final few seconds to beat Louisiana Tech 69-68 on Thursday inside E.A. Diddle Arena.
Lamonte Bearden’s two free throws – after he missed a pair two seconds before – with 12 seconds to play proved to be the difference. Dwight Coleby had 16 points and 15 rebounds to lead Western (9-5, 1-0 Conference USA).
Up 55-52 and suffering through a long scoring drought, Coleby scored on a putback to get WKU going again with just less than six minutes to play. A Taveion Hollingsworth reverse layup a minute later put the Tops ahead by six.
DaQuan Bracey’s 3 on the ensuing possession got the Bulldogs back within 60-56 and two Jacobi Boykins free throws got LTU down 60-58 with four minutes left. Up 64-62, WKU got a huge shot from senior guard Darius Thompson who buried a 3 while falling down as the shot clock expired making it 67-62 with 2:04 to play.
Back-to-back Derric Jean layups put the Bulldogs down 67-66 with 66 seconds showing on the clock. Bracey’s bullish drive through the left side and a tough finish finally gave Tech the lead at 68-67 before Bearden’s two free throws with 12 ticks to go made it 69-68.
Bracey had a layup from the right side blocked by Coleby and then Boykins missed a 3 from the top of the key as time expired.
Justin Johnson scored 16 to go along with seven rebounds and Hollingsworth added 15. Thompson finished with 11 points, five assists and four rebounds.
The Hilltoppers host Southern Mississippi at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Western Kentucky started the night on a 11-2 run thanks to an emphatic, two-handed Coleby dunk and an acrobatic Hollingsworth layup on the break. Tech started the game 1 of 9 from the floor and committed five fouls in the first five minutes.
A second two-handed dunk from Marek Nelson gave WKU a 19-7 lead with 12 1/2 minutes left in the half. The Hilltoppers recorded seven assists on their first seven made field goals.
Derrick Jean’s floater with just less than seven minutes in the half cut the LTU deficit to 26-16. Exavian Chirston’s runner with 3 1/2 minutes to go got the Bulldogs within 10 at 31-22 and Christon’s 3 from the top of the key brought the score to 33-27 just 90 seconds later.
Hollingsworth restored order with a 3 of his own and WKU would be content to take a 38-29 lead into the break. The Hilltoppers were 12 of 17 from the line over the first 20 minutes and had 11 assists on 12 made field goals.
HALFTIME— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) December 29, 2017
Western Kentucky 38
Louisiana Tech 29 pic.twitter.com/cspk79qM3Z
Western kept the lead at arm’s length early in the second half – a Coleby dunk early made it 45-35 and a Thompson 3 that banked in made it 50-40 with 14 minutes to go.
At the 10:07 mark, Tech’s Anthony Duruji blocked Nelson’s dunk attempt on the fat break – but then the Bulldogs’ freshman taunted Nelson who was lying on the court. That equated to a pair of Thompson free throws and a 55-44 Western Kentucky lead.
Louisiana Tech put together an 8-0 to make it a 55-52 game. Boykin buried a long 3 from the top of the key and Bracey streaked down the court for a fastbreak layup forcing a Rick Stansbury timeout with 7:45 to go.
The Hilltoppers went nearly seven minutes without a made field goal until Coleby came to the rescue with a putback giving WKU a 57-52 edge as 5:52 showed on the clock.
Boykin had 14 to lead LTU (9-5, 0-1 CUSA) while Bracey added 13 and Jean finished with 11.
• Thursday’s matchup between WKU and Tech was the 32nd in a series dating back to 1928. The Bulldogs have won 7 of 11 since 1999.
• Western Kentucky has made at least one 3 in 952 straight games.
• Western Kentucky has nine wins before January with one game remaining. The 2012 team was the last team to win 10 before January.
• Johnson (1,293 career points) passed Wayne Chapman for 23rd on WKU’s all-time scoring list. Tony Wilson is 22nd with 1,305 career points.
• Johnson needs 41 rebounds to move into the top 10 on WKU’s all-time career rebounding list. Dwight Smith is 10th with 856.
• Hollingsworth is five points away from moving past Caden Dickerson (15th; 199) and A.J. Slaughter (14th; 200) for points in a season by a freshman.
• Under Stansbury, WKU is now 17-5 in home games, 20-4 when leading at halftime, 21-0 when leading at the 5-minute mark, 21-12 when attempting more free throws than the opponent, 5-16 when getting out-rebounded by the opponent, 7-12 when scoring 69 points or fewer, 19-5 when allowing 69 points or fewer, 8-6 in December and 5-4 on Thursday.
• Attendance on Thursday was announced as 4,897 giving WKU a season average of 4,578.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop
Stats! pic.twitter.com/kLglFzthhL— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) December 29, 2017