Hilltoppers hold off Austin Peay in offensive shootout

Redshirt senior guard Que Johnson (32) shoots during WKU’s 103-97 double-overtime win against Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, at Diddle Arena.

Sam Porter

The Western Kentucky men’s basketball team closed out non-conference play on Wednesday night as the Hilltoppers hosted Austin Peay State University in a matchup of former Ohio Valley Conference rivals. Four different Hilltoppers scored in double figures as WKU defeated the Governors 97-92 in the highest scoring game of the season for both teams.

The Hilltoppers led by 22 at one point, but the Governors cut the lead down to three points before WKU held on for the five point victory.

“Chemistry was a big thing for us tonight,” senior forward Ben Lawson said. “I just felt like everybody was on the same page. Coach Stansbury was really seeing the floor well and drawing up good plays. He saw their bigs going over screens and cheating plays and we were able to get some lobs from that. I just felt like we really clicked tonight and it was a great feeling.”

The Hilltoppers took no time getting on the board first as Lawson scored on an assist from Pancake Thomas just 10 seconds into the game. Austin Peay’s Josh Robinson answered with a three which set the tone of what would be a shootout the rest of the way.

The two teams battled back and forth and neither team built more than a five-point lead until the Hilltoppers created some separation right before the half.

With a 41-39 lead late in the first half, junior forward Justin Johnson kicked it out to Thomas for a wide open three-pointer. Just moments later, Thomas hit another three that gave the Hilltoppers a 47-40 lead going into the break.

“We were really efficient in the first half,” Stansbury said after the game. “We scored 47 points and shot 56 percent. We were efficient inside and outside. Everything was good, but we gave up 40 first half points and that’s too many.”

Austin Peay’s Robinson opened the second half with an and-one to cut the WKU lead to 47-43.

However, that’s when the Hilltoppers began to click on all cylinders.

Que Johnson answered with a jumper that ignited a 17-0 Hilltopper run capped off by a Justin Johnson three-pointer with 15:09 to play. The 17-0 run left the Governors scoreless for nearly five minutes and gave WKU a 64-43 lead.

“I challenged that bunch who started the game and I thought they took on the challenge in the second half,” Stansbury said. “If you take away that first basket of the second half, we went 10 straight possessions not giving up a basket. We locked in defensively and got stops and separated ourselves in a hurry.”       

Just when the Hilltoppers appeared to have pulled away, Austin Peay answered.

Bowling Green natives Jared Savage and Chris Porter-Bunton combined for 22 points in a 10 minute span that helped the Governors cut the lead to 84-81 with 4:57 to play.

Needing a spark, Thomas nailed his fourth three of the game to make it a six-point Hilltopper advantage. Lawson followed that up with a layup and Que Johnson hit two free throws that pushed the lead back to double digits. Once again, the Governors fought back, going on a 9-2 run to make it a three-point game with under a minute to play.

“It’s obvious that we aren’t used to playing with a big lead” Stansbury said. “They scored on nine possessions in a row at one point. All of a sudden, you give them some confidence and its a three-point game.”

Que Johnson hit three out of WKU’s four free throws in the final minute as WKU held on to a 97-92 victory. He led WKU with 25 points and Thomas scored 18. The win improves the Hilltoppers to 6-7 heading into conference play. The Hilltoppers travel to Florida Atlantic (4-7) on Saturday at 12 p.m. to open C-USA play.

“We approach every game the same way,” Stansbury said. “The next game is always the biggest. It doesn’t matter who it is. This week it’s Florida Atlantic. I don’t know a lot about them except they went to Ohio State and won and that tells me enough. If you go to Ohio State and win then you must be pretty tough.”