HILLTOPPERS PICK UP KEY SEED, 42ND 20-WIN SEASON WITH 75-72 WIN OVER LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU closed out the home portion of the 2013-14 regular season with a 75-72 win over Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday night at E.A. Diddle Arena, securing the second seed and a double-bye to the semifinals in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament and notching the program's 42nd 20-win season. The win improves WKU's record to 20-10 overall and 12-5 in league play, and Louisiana-Lafayette falls to 19-11 and 10-7.
WKU moves to 17-4 under head coach Ray Harper in games played on or after February 21. WKU finishes the home slate with a 13-4 record at E.A. Diddle Arena, the program's most home victories since winning 13 in both 2007-08 and 2008-09. The 42 20-win seasons rank eighth in NCAA history, and this 20-win season was the first to come in the regular season since 2008-09.
WKU was led by George Fant's 18 points and nine rebounds, and Chris Harrison-Docks hit 10 free throws en route to 15 points. T.J. Price added 13 points and six rebounds, and senior O'Karo Akamune tied a career high with 10 points. Seniors Caden Dickerson and Brandon Harris also played their final home games in a WKU uniform and finished with five and three points, respectively. Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton led all scorers with 31 points, and he also had 13 rebounds.
Harrison-Docks hit a three-pointer at the buzzer in front of the Ragin' Cajun bench to give WKU a 37-34 lead at the break in a back-and-forth first half featuring four ties and seven lead changes. Seven Hilltoppers scored in the first half, led by Trency Jackson and T. Price with seven points apiece. The Hilltoppers shot 51.7 percent in the first half (15-for-29) and held Louisiana-Lafayette to 35.3 percent shooting (12-for-34).
The Ragin' Cajuns won the battle of the boards, 24-14, and Louisiana-Lafayette had 14 offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points.
The biggest lead for either team was a 12-6 Louisiana-Lafayette lead with just 4:44 gone by in the game.
The start of the second half was played as close as the first half was, as neither team had a lead of more than four points for the first 12 minutes of the second period. After two Payton free throws to cut the WKU lead from four points to 55-53, the Hilltoppers scored six-straight to take its largest lead of the game at 61-53 with 5:28 to play in the game.
The Ragin' Cajuns mustered one field goal in the next 90 seconds, and WKU kept a 61-55 lead at the under-4:00 media timeout.
Both teams hit big shot after big shot in the final four minutes, but WKU never lost the lead despite Louisiana-Lafayette coming within one possession three times in the final minute. Akamune split a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining to give WKU a 73-69 lead, and Steven Wronkoski came down and buried a triple with nine seconds left to bring the Ragin' Cajuns within one at 73-72.
Harrison-Docks was fouled on the next inbounds play and calmly hit his ninth and 10th free throws of the night to secure the 75-72 WKU victory.
WKU finished the game shooting 41.8 percent (23-for-55), and WKU went 24-for-33 from the free throw line (.727) for its best outing percentage-wise in the last five games. Louisiana-Lafayette became just the fifth team this season to outrebound WKU in a game when it held a 47-35 advantage on the glass.
WKU committed just eight turnovers in the game and held the Ragin' Cajuns to 36.2 percent shooting (25-for-69).
NUMBER OF 20-WIN SEASONS IN NCAA HISTORY
1. Kentucky - 59
2. North Carolina - 56
3. Duke - 49
4. Louisville - 46
5. UCLA - 45
T-6. Kansas - 43
T-6. Syracuse - 43
8. WKU - 42
T-9. St. John's - 38
T-9. Villanova - 38
HEAD COACH CORNER
WKU head coach Ray Harper:
"I'm just happy for (the team). They would never quit. I thought tonight we were very good. Offensively we shared the basketball. We had very few turnovers until late in the basketball game. I thought it was a high-level game. There were a lot of NBA people in the arena tonight for a reason. Elfrid Payton is the real deal. I thought we battled him. He's a good player."
Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Bob Marlin:
"It was a very physical game. I thought we got off to a pretty good start. At halftime, we gave up the big three at the end of the half. It was our ball coming out. We had an opportunity to get back in front. We had several minutes in the middle of the second half where we didn't score the ball. I thought our defense was really good in the second half. It gave us an opportunity. We pressed them late, and had a chance to pull it out I felt like. But we are not going to win a lot of games when Shawn Long and Bryant Mbamalu go 3-for-18. Elfrid (Payton) was great. Some other guys stepped up and played really well. We are going to regroup and get ready for Arkansas State. We bring out the best in WKU. They don't shoot free throws like this against anyone else. Give them credit; they made some big ones tonight."
WKU wraps up the 2013-14 regular season Saturday afternoon at 1:30 (CT) at Georgia State. Saturday's game will be televised by the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network, airing nationally on ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court and regionally on WKU PBS and WBNA 21.4 Retro TV. It will also be broadcast on the radio on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network, airing locally in Bowling Green on WKLX-FM Sam 100.7, with Randy Lee and Hal Schmitt on the call.
WKU begins play in the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Tournament next week in New Orleans, La. The official bracket and playing times will be announced Saturday evening.
Tickets for the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Tournament are now on sale through the WKU Ticket Office. Each ticket book contains eight tickets. There are a total of eight sessions, with sessions 1-6 including two games each. Session seven features the women's championship game, and session eight is the men's championship game. Ticket books cost $99.00, and seats are general admission. To purchase tickets please contact the WKU Ticket Office at 1-800-5-BIG RED or 745-5222 locally, or order online at WKUSports.com.
Official release from WKU sports information