Western Kentucky at Louisiana Tech 010121

Western Kentucky’s Dayvion McKnight brings the ball up the court against Louisiana Tech during WKU’s 74-73 loss Saturday in Ruston, La.

Western Kentucky will try to have a short memory after a tough loss in its Conference USA opener.

“Sit back and think about it tonight – think about what we did wrong – and I guess take that goldfish mentality where you just forget about it the next day and move on and start focusing on the next game,” WKU guard Camron Justice said after last weekend’s loss at Louisiana Tech.

The next game? Florida International.

The Hilltoppers fell late to the Bulldogs to begin league play and will have their home conference opener Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena against the Panthers. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Despite the result, WKU (8-6 overall, 0-1 C-USA) will try to take some positives from the loss in the league opener. (The Hilltoppers were originally scheduled to open Dec. 30 at Southern Miss, but the game was called off due to COVID issues with the Golden Eagles.)

The Hilltoppers led for much of the game in Ruston, La., before giving up the lead late. Kenneth Lofton Jr. knocked down two free throws in the closing seconds to give the Bulldogs the victory. Louisiana Tech was picked to finish second in the league’s preseason poll, with WKU third. Justice had 22 points in the loss and Dayvion McKnight had 20 in the defeat.

“I take away from it a lot of positive things,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said Monday on his radio show. “I take away from it how good we were on the road against one of the better teams in the league. Let’s learn from those couple of mistakes.”

WKU is in the middle of a long stretch with a limited number of games. The Hilltoppers hadn’t played since a loss at Kentucky on Dec. 22 before the game against Louisiana Tech, and Saturday’s game against FIU is its only one this week.

The Panthers (10-4, 0-1) fell 82-77 to Old Dominion in their C-USA opener Dec. 30 before victories over St. Thomas and Bethune-Cookman over the last week. Tevin Brewer leads FIU with 15.2 points per game, and Denver Jones and Daniel Parrish each add double-digit scoring with 12.6 and 10 points per game, respectively.

“I don’t know a lot about them except they’ve had some really good wins,” Stansbury said on the radio show. “They lost the home (conference) opener in a close one to a really good Old Dominion team, but they’ve had some really good wins on the road. A team that’s going to shoot the ball, a bunch of 3s and anytime anybody shoots the 3s they’re capable of beating anybody.”

The Hilltoppers are 37-9 all-time against FIU. WKU will follow Saturday’s game with home matchups against Rice and North Texas next week.

FIU (10-4, 0-1) AT WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-6, 0-1)

2 p.m. Saturday/E.A. Diddle Arena

Probable starters

FIU

Denver Jones, g, 6-4, fr. (12.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Eric Lovett, g/f, 6-5, sr. (7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Tevin Brewer, g, 5-8, r-jr. (15.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Seth Pinkney, c, 7-1, so. (4.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Clevon Brown, f, 6-8, gr. (8.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Luke Frampton, g, 6-5, r-sr. (9 ppg, 3 rpg); Dayvion McKnight, g, 6-1, so. (13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Jamarion Sharp, c, 7-5, jr. (7.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Jairus Hamilton, f, 6-8, sr. (14.8 ppg, 6 rpg); Camron Justice, g, 6-3, gr. (13.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg).

Television

ESPN+

Radio

Hilltopper Sports Network

Coaches

Jeremy Ballard (58-48, fourth year; 58-48 overall), FIU; Rick Stansbury (111-66, sixth year; 404-232 overall), WKU.

Series record

WKU leads the all-time series 37-9 (The Hilltoppers won the last meeting 71-59 on March 1 at E.A. Diddle Arena).

Last time out

FIU won 68-65 at home against Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday; WKU lost 74-73 at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.