Hilltoppers open C-USA play with a pair of wins

Senior Forward Anton Waters (42) makes a basket during the Hilltoppers 79-66 win over Alabama State on Nov. 12, 2016 at Diddle Arena.

Matthew Stewart

The WKU men’s basketball team (8-7) took a two-game road trip to the Sunshine State to kick off C-USA play, and picked up a pair of conference wins.

On New Year’s Eve, WKU faced off against the Owls of Florida Atlantic University down in Boca Raton.

The Toppers handed FAU its eighth loss of the season to open up conference play, taking down FAU convincingly with a final score of 69-54. The Tops started off with a 1-0 record in Conference USA and have won their conference opener eight out of the last 10 seasons.

Head Coach Rick Stansbury racked up his 300th career victory with the win over the Owls.

“Someone said something to me about it in the locker room after the game,” Stansbury said, according to a press release. “Never think about it. It’s the next game. The only one that’ll matter to me now, since you’re counting, will be 301. That’s just where it is. Years from now, I may slow down and take a deep breath and think about it, but what means the most to me right now is we’re 1-0 in a new season, a new year, and we won our first one on the road.”

Senior guard Que Johnson and sophomore forward Jabari McGhee led the team with 13 points each while finishing with seven and nine rebounds, respectively. Seniors Anton Waters and Pancake Thomas also scored in double figures putting up 11 points each.

Waters was the only player in the game to put together a double-double performance with 10 boards to go along with his 11 points. 

“It feels like we’re playing as one,” Waters said, per release. “Everybody was linked. We had the charisma, we had the connection. Everybody was on the same page, so it felt pretty good.”

The second contest in C-USA play brought Stansbury and company to Miami to face off against the Panthers of Florida International University (4-11).

The Toppers continued their winning ways as they took down FIU with a final score of 69-66. With the win the Tops start off 2-0 in conference play for the fourth time in five years.

“It’s big for this team, knowing where this team was at and what we’ve been struggling through,” Stansbury said. “I do believe this – I do believe all those games we’ve had on the road … helped us here tonight. We didn’t panic. We got down nine in that second half with about 11 minutes to go, and we didn’t panic.”

For the eleventh time this season, Stansbury started Junior Lomomba, Thomas, QueJohnson, Justin Johnson and Ben Lawson.

Waters and Thomas led the team with 14 points a piece. Waters set career highs with the 14 points and two assists that he added in the contest while going seven of nine from the field.

“We always know he (Waters) gives us some toughness of the bench, rebounding that basketball,” Stansbury said. “If he can give us some scoring like that, that’s a huge plus. He’s one of those guys that got us going in the first half a little bit.”

Que and Justin Johnson each finished with 11 points and Thomas led the Hilltoppers with seven rebounds, a season high for him.

The Tops will be back in action Thursday at 7 p.m. with a chance to protect their home court in Diddle Arena as they face off against the University of North Carolina Charlotte. 

The 49ers are currently 7-6 and are sitting in eighth place in C-USA.

“Anytime you win on the road, it’s big,” Justin Johnson said, per release. “We’re calling it our new season right now, so hopefully we can go back home and get two more at home. It’s a chance to protect your home court.”