When Western Kentucky doesn’t rebound or play tight defense, it becomes awfully difficult for the Hilltoppers to win.

Mired in the a three-game losing streak, WKU (10-8, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference) fell to 0-4 this season and 3-10 under second-year coach Ray Harper when the opponent grabs more rebounds.

They also dropped to 0-4 this season when shooting less than 40 percent after going 18 of 54 from the field in a 65-62 loss to Florida Atlantic on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

“We had some great looks,” Harper said. “We missed layups – you name them, we missed them. They played good defense, take nothing away from them, but we had some good looks.

“We also had some not-so-good looks, especially in the first half – no passes, one pass – one-on-four in transition one time we took a shot. That’s not good basketball.”

Saturday’s game was an anomaly for a Harper-coached squad when it comes to rebounding.

And despite losing the battle of the boards 44-28 to FAU, WKU still ranks first in defensive rebounding percentage (70.2), third in rebounding offense (37.9 per game) and defensive rebounds (25 per game), second in rebounding defense (33.4 per game) and rebounding margin (+4.4), fifth in offensive rebounds (12.9 per game) and fourth in offensive rebounding percentage (36.1) among conference squads.

They did not appear to be the same team who holds those lofty rankings against the Owls.

“I told our guys, that’s normally an effort stat with me,” Harper said. “Rebounding the basketball takes a lot of energy in going after basketballs, and they just whipped us.

“It’s the second game in a row that’s happened. We continue to have guys play quality minutes and not rebound the basketball. We’re not talented enough to get away with that. That’s why the result was what it was (Saturday).”

In the past three defeats – losses to Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State and FAU – WKU’s opponent has shot at least 47 percent.

In 10 wins this season, only once – Dec. 1 at Troy – has the opponent shot better than 46 percent.

That equation means the Hilltoppers – seventh of 11 SBC teams in scoring at 67.2 ppg – can’t afford nights like Saturday in which they shot 33 percent from the floor and missed 16 of the 20 shots they took from behind the 3-point line.

“I felt like it was just a bad loss,” junior forward O’Karo Akamune said. “We give Florida Atlantic credit, they played well, they shot well – but it was basically a bad loss.”

On the season, WKU is 111 of 375 from 3, averaging out to 29.6 percent. Only North Texas (25.2 percent) is shooting at a worse clip and only Troy (389) has fired up more shots from distance.

Western Kentucky, now two games behind first-place Middle Tennessee and tied for third in the conference’s East Division, hosts Louisiana-Lafayette (7-12, 3-5 SBC) at 7 p.m. Thursday and will try and even the season series against UALR (11-8, 5-3) at 5 p.m. Saturday, also at Diddle Arena.

Up next

7 p.m. • Thursday Bowling Green • TV: WKYU

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