The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team made its frustration known Saturday.
It wasn’t necessarily because the Lady Toppers (17-6, 10-4 Sun Belt Conference) suffered their first home loss in conference play this season, but because they let a win get away.
WKU allowed Arkansas State (13-11, 10-5) to shoot 52.6 percent, and a trio of Red Wolves combined for 61 points as the Lady Tops fell 78-74 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
“We didn’t guard anybody,” WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “I know they have good players, but (Jalen) O’Bannon had 20 and (Jane) Morrill killed us. I never talk about size, but sometimes when we get in foul trouble, it’s definitely a challenge.”
The teams swapped the lead several times in the final minutes, but WKU had to play the final 2:32 without sophomore forward Chastity Gooch after she fouled out.
Sophomore guard Alexis Govan’s bucket with 36 seconds left gave the Lady Tops a 74-73 lead, but Arkansas State pulled ahead for good with a three-point play by Morrill off a bounce-pass layup.
“We got three stops in a row, and they made a great pass,” Heard said. “She’s a big-time player. She’s going to catch it, and she finished. It happens.”
Morrill finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, while O’Bannon netted 10 free throws and scored 20 points. ASU guard Hanna Qedan chipped in 17 points, including three 3-pointers.
Qedan scored Arkansas State’s first eight points, including two 3s, as the Red Wolves raced to a 10-3 lead.
“We started off losing shooters at the beginning of the game,” Govan said. “We weren’t talking and didn’t have energy to start the game, and that hurt us. That put us in a hole.”
The Lady Tops got their first lead at the 9:02 mark, when freshman forward Jalynn McClain put them up 23-21 with a jumper.
They finished the first half tied at 37, as Arkansas State shot 60 percent.
“We had a chance there at the end,” Heard said. “We turned it over or didn’t get a good shot, but it didn’t come down to that last shot. It came down to it being 37-37 at halftime and them shooting 60 percent at halftime.”
The Red Wolves built a lead as large as eight with 7:53 remaining, but WKU rallied with a 10-2 run. Junior guard Bianca McGee’s layup with 3:28 to play tied it at 65.
Gooch fouled out on an over-the-back call while trying to rebound a 3-point attempt by freshman guard LeAsia Wright. She finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds for her nation-leading 20th double-double in 23 games.
“It’s very frustrating, just watching your team, and there’s nothing you can but just cheer them on,” Gooch said.
Arkansas State capitalized on its size the rest of the way, as O’Bannon and Morrill scored its final 13 points. Both players are listed at 6 feet 1 inch tall, which is an inch taller than any regular contributor on the WKU roster.
After Morrill’s three-point play put ASU up 76-74, McGee drove deep below the basket and had her shot blocked. Morrill netted two free throws with four seconds left to seal it.
“The instructions were to go hard and drive the ball to the basket, but to back it out and try to get a good shot,” Heard said. “At the end of the day, the kids played hard, and we’ll continue to keep getting better.”
Govan finished with 23 points, and McGee added 11. WKU shot 46.7 percent and outrebounded Arkansas State 35-28.
The Lady Toppers return to action at Florida Atlantic at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“People are having to figure out how to guard us also, and today we looked very stagnant in our offense,” Heard said. “We’ve got to go back and work on that and get the glitches out before this Florida swing.”
All-Diddle team honored
The Lady Tops honored the 10 members of their All-Diddle Arena team at halftime of Saturday’s game.
In attendance were Brenda Chapman, Dominique Duck, current assistant coach ShaRae Mansfield, Lillie Mason, Tiffany Porter-Talbert, Natalie Powers and Kami Thomas Howard.
Members not in attendance were Clemette Haskins, Crystal Kelly and Kim Pehlke.
“It feels great to come back to your home and see a lot of these special players that played in this special building,” Mason said. “It feels good to be remembered and know that you meant something to the program.”
For Duck, who played from 2006-10 and is the youngest player on the All-Diddle team, the honor brought a smile to her face.
“It’s amazing to even be mentioned with all of those names,” she said. “For me to be mentioned in the same breath with them is a huge thing for me.”
Fans show support
WKU’s announced attendance for the women’s game was 2,314, which was the largest crowd this season.
It’s also the largest home women’s crowd, excluding the Spread the Red Education Day events, since the Lady Tops drew 2,619 fans Feb. 8, 2009, against South Alabama.
“That was nice to see,” Gooch said. “We’ve been trying to get people out, and that was good to see a lot of people in the stands.”