In front of a late arriving crowd, Louisiana Tech didn't wait very long to get started against Western Kentucky. Eric McCree hit a couple of jumpers early, then Alex Hamilton scored the next five points; two that came off of a steal by McCree.
The Hilltoppers turned the ball over three times in the first four minutes, 30 seconds and the Bulldogs led 9-4. Tech pushed it out to a 11-4 lead on a steal and score by Merrill Holden, then forced a Hilltopper timeout with their press.
Western Kentucky fought back behind six points in the paint from George Fant. With 11:27 remaining in the first half, the game was tied 13-13.
With 7:56 left in the half, Tech retook the lead at 19-16. Fant was on the bench with two fouls. The Bulldogs were active on defense -- getting deflections and keeping Western Kentucky off balance.
T.J. Price also picked up his second foul and Tech's lead grew to 24-16 with 5:13 to play. The Hilltoppers had committed nine turnovers at that point and they also picked up their seventh foul. Western Kentucky was feeling the pressure from the Bulldogs and they didn't have their safety valve down low in Fant.
Still, Western Kentucky clawed their way back again, this time pulling within three at 26-23. A Raheem Appleby three and a floater at the buzzer by Hamilton gave Louisiana Tech a 31-23 lead at the half.
The Hilltoppers were a certainty to come out strong with Fant and Price in the second half, but it was the Bulldogs who came out on fire. Tech scored the first 10 points of the half, fueled by Speedy Smith and McCree.
Price picked up his third foul, but he stayed in the game. His score pulled Western Kentucky to 42-29. Then with 14:57 left to play, Fant picked up his third foul.
Tech went up 47-29 and the Hilltoppers were on the ropes. A pair of 3-pointers by Price and Chris Harrison-Docks made it 47-35.
Fant helped the Hilltoppers cut into the lead further with a block on one end and a flush on the other. With 9:58 to play, Tech's 18-point lead had shrunk to just six.
Again the Bulldogs buckled down on defense, then Smith hit a three -- Tech was 3-for-17 from deep before Smith's shot -- and an Appleby score pushed the lead back to 12. The Bulldogs led 57-45 with 7:16 left in the game.
The teams traded baskets until the 4-minute mark when Appleby went baseline and hammered down a dunk over Fant, who tried to hold his position on the block.
The wind seemed to disappear from Western Kentucky's sails after that. With 2:37 left, Tech went up 65-51 on a free throw by Appleby.
Tech held on to win 69-56. Appleby and Hamilton each scored 17 for Tech. McCree had 14 points and 12 rebounds while Smith had 11 points and 12 assists.
Price had 17 points and Fant scored 15 for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers committed 16 turnovers and 18 fouls in the game.
Western Kentucky heads to Southern Miss on Saturday while Tech hosts Marshall. Marshall beat USM 69-54 Thursday.