Western Kentucky’s comeback bid came up just short.

After trailing by as many as 21 points in the first half, the Hilltoppers got within a point of Louisiana Tech in the final two minutes, before falling to the Bulldogs 63-58 on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

“Give Louisiana Tech credit. They showed up the second night and that first eight or 10 minutes they definitely had the better mental preparation,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “ ... I know it’s a 40-minute game, but we dug ourselves such a hole that first 10 or 12 minutes – I’m not for sure exactly what it was. I just know we got down 20 or 21 and from that point on, I felt like there was a different urgency with us, but you just have to expend so much energy on a second night when you’re down that far to get back in it and we had our chances.”

WKU (9-4 overall, 2-2 Conference USA) entered halftime trailing 38-24, after getting behind by as many as 21 with 7:56 to play in the opening period. The Hilltoppers opened the second half strong, scoring the first seven points and getting within single digits, where the game would remain.

The Hilltoppers chipped away, getting within four at the 12:15 mark, and again at the 7:55 mark, but both times the Bulldogs (9-4, 2-2) pulled back ahead. Taveion Hollingsworth was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 4:02 to play and made all three shots to start a 6-0 run that got WKU within one at 59-58 with 1:40 to play, but it’s as close as WKU would get.

Jordan Rawls was unable to make a go-ahead 3-pointer with 42 seconds left and Dayvion McKnight couldn’t finish a putback attempt, and the score remained until JaColby Pemberton tipped in a miss from Amorie Archibald to put Louisiana Tech ahead by three with 16 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Hollingsworth was unable to finish a shot in traffic at the rim. Pemberton got the rebound and Kalob Ledoux was fouled with 3.6 seconds left. He made both free throws to close out the 63-58 win.

“We’ve just got to pick it up,” Hollingsworth said. “We started out sluggish and we paid for it.”

The failed comeback bid came after the Hilltoppers got off to another slow offensive start, after shooting under 36% from the field and going 2 of 17 from 3-point range in Friday’s 66-64 win over the Bulldogs.

The Hilltoppers turned the ball over nine times, shot just 33% and were 2 of 9 from behind the arc in the first half Saturday, with the first long-range make coming from the corner from Hollingsworth with just over three minutes to play until the break. Hollingsworth’s shot was part of a 9-0 WKU run that helped the Hilltoppers cut the deficit to 11, before eventually entering the break down 14.

But for most of the opening half, nothing was going well for WKU. Archibald – who missed what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired Friday – made a 3-pointer with 14:53 left in the opening period to kickstart a 20-0 Louisiana Tech run. The Bulldogs got back-to-back buckets from Archibald and Andrew Gordon to grow the lead to 21 after Hollingsworth ended the run and a nearly six and a half minute WKU scoring drought with a pair of free throws.

“I think that was just on us. We just weren’t prepared like we were supposed to be mentally coming out into the game,” WKU senior guard Josh Anderson said. “I felt like we just kind of took it for granted and just came out with low energy and that was just bad.”

Louisiana Tech’s hot start came with a balanced offense. No player finished the first half in double figures, and six players had at least four points, led by Archibald’s eight. The Bulldogs shot 52% from the field and made half of the eight 3-pointers they attempted.

Archibald finished with a team-high 14 points and Andrew Gordon had 11 points off the bench for Louisiana Tech, which is scheduled to host UTSA in a two-game series starting Friday.

Hollingsworth led WKU with 16 points and Charles Bassey had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Bassey attempted only two shots in the second half, both coming from 3-point range and the final coming with 13:36 to play. Bassey had 24 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks Friday.

“Sometimes when you’re fighting back and getting down, we were attacking that basket, playing (with) a little more freedom, trying to get some chaos in transition a little bit to get back in that thing,” Stansbury said. “ ... We got in the bonus, we were trying to attack that rim in there and they did a good job.

“They kept Gordon on him a bunch now too, and he’s a load. We tried to throw it in there a couple different times, but you’ve got to be able to pass that basketball, and sometimes they pack that thing in there so hard. They were more cautious tonight around everybody helping off in there on Charles. They weren’t going to let him have that night he had last night inside.”

The Hilltoppers finished shooting 35% from the field and 38% from 3-point range, after opening the second half with makes on its first four 3-point attempts.

WKU overcame its offensive struggles Friday with rebounding and free-throw shooting. The Hilltoppers were plus-14 on the boards in the series opener, and finished with 31 free-throw attempts – 22 of which came in the second half. WKU was plus-three on the boards Saturday, and attempted 21 free throws – 11 in the second half.

The Hilltoppers are scheduled to open its rivalry series with Marshall on Friday at E.A. Diddle Arena, before playing the Thundering Herd in Huntington, W.Va., on Sunday.{&end}

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

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