With the win Louisiana (8-8, 2-0 Sun Belt) extended their regular season Sun Belt winning streak to 12 games and picked up their first “true” road win of the 2011-12 season. The Cajuns also won at Diddle Arena for the first time since January 2004.
WKU (5-11, 1-2 Sun Belt) held Louisiana to one field goal make the final 4:40 of regulation and scored nine unanswered for a 62-59 advantage with one minute remaining.
UL broke a four-minute field goal drought with a Kadeem Coleby stuff at 0:51 and forced overtime with a trio of defensive stops and a Payton free throw with seven seconds remaining.
The Cajuns fell behind 67-65 in the extra frame after a triple by Khalil McDonald with 2:29 remaining. Darshawn McClellan answered for Louisiana with a three-pointer in the left corner at 1:31 for a 68-67 lead.
Payton then forced a WKU turnover with a steal and converted a layup at 1:10. The Hilltoppers pulled even at 70-all when Derrick Gordon buried a triple with 27 seconds showing.
UL received another strong effort from J.J. Thomas who registered a team-and season-high 19 points for his third straight outing in double figures since returning to action on Dec. 21 vs. UCF. Raymone Andrews joined Thomas in double figures with 16.
WKU was led by a quartet of double figurer scorers with Gordon’s 20 points being the team-and game-high. The Hilltoppers benefited from 20 Cajuns turnovers which led to 22 points and kept the game close.
Louisiana shot 44.3 percent for the contest, finishing at 58 percent (18-of-31) after halftime. The Cajuns defense limited WKU to 33.3 percent (25-of-73) for the night, improving to 7-1 when the opposition shoots below 40 percent.
The Ragin’ Cajuns now carry a three-game winning streak to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for a 5:30 p.m. meeting with Middle Tennessee on Saturday at the Murphy Center.
The teams traded scores through the first four minutes and were deadlocked at 4-all. A George Fant baseline jumper at 15:35 and Jamal Crook jumper on the left elbow at 14:59 provided WKU with an 8-4 lead.
Andrews ended a string of six unanswered Toppers points as he drove into the lane and floated the ball into the hoop at 14:37.
UL missed its next four field goal attempts and committed a pair of turnovers over the next three minutes. A triple from McDonald at 12:46 extended WKU’s lead to 13-6.
The Cajuns defense tightened up and held the Toppers to one field goal make (1-for-9 shooting) over the next five-plus minutes. A 9-2 run was capped off by a Thomas layup at 7:45 that evened the score at 15-all.
A Coleby freebie at 7:16 gave the Cajuns a 16-15 lead. A T.J. Price tip-in at 6:46 off a miss by Crook returned the lead to WKU momentarily. Coleby evened the score again, with a free throw at 5:13, and then tipped in a Josh Brown miss 23 seconds later to give UL a 19-17 advantage.
WKU notched baskets on back-to-back possessions out of the three-minute media timeout and took a 22-19 lead with 3:20 left in the opening stanza.
The Cajuns grabbed the halftime lead after triples by Thomas and Andrews during the one-minute mark gave the visitors a 27-24 lead. A Crook jumper with 40 seconds on the clock provided the halftime margin, 27-26.
WKU scored the first four points of the second half and held a 30-27 lead as the clock dipped under 17 minutes. Brown picked up the Cajuns first points of the half at 16:23 on a second-chance layup and McClellan returned the lead to UL, 32-30, with a three-point basket at the 16:01 mark.
Over the next five possessions the teams swapped scores and were knotted at 36-all with 13 minutes remaining.
WKU pulled ahead 38-37 with a pair of McDonald free throws at 12:27, but Thomas had the answer for UL as he buried a triple at 12:01 to trigger a 9-2 run that opened a 47-40 lead as the second half neared the midpoint.
The Toppers crawled back within two points, 53-51, following two free throws from Gordon with 6:51 left in regulation. A three-pointer from Andrews and Thomas jumper at the top of the key at 4:40 fueled a 6-2 Cajuns run that opened a 59-53 advantage.