BASKETBALL SPECIAL: Tops win in thriller, Alabama State next

Redshirt senior guard Junior Lomomba (5) goes up for a shot during WKU’s 103-97 double-overtime win against Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, at Diddle Arena. Lomomba led the Hilltopper’s with 29 points.

Matthew Stewart

On Saturday night the Toppers faced off against NCAA Division II powerhouse. Kentucky Wesleyan College.

The game was wire to wire and came down to a photo finish ending in double overtime, highlighted by a buzzer-beating three-point shot in the first overtime by redshirt senior guard Pancake Thomas that tied the score at 98.

“Turn around, throw in a three pointer at the buzzer, you know that’s basketball,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury said. “So many times it’s not about what you draw up it’s about guys making basketball plays is what the game is about.”

After the game, Thomas said he still didn’t know how the shot went in but he was glad it did. Thomas finished with 24 points, five assists and five rebounds in the game.

“I just was trying to rush to get it off,” Thomas said. “By the grace of God, it went in.”

After the game, Stansbury joked he shouldn’t have let his longtime friend and KWC Head Coach Happy Osborne talk him into playing against the Panthers.

Stansbury saw a lot of things from his team that they need to improve on. Defending the dribble is something he would like to see his team get better at as well as communicating on the court.

“We have to get better in so many areas, the ability to concentrate, see things happen before it happens,” Stansbury said. “There is too many times we have a lack of concentration that leads to breakdowns. We gotta guard the dribble better.”

There were three WKU players who played more than 45 minutes in the contest, which could have led to some breakdowns on the court late into the game.

“It felt like 60 [minutes],” Thomas said. “I was like, man, I’m ready to get this one over with. I love to play, but I’m ready to get this one over with.”

Bench production was an area of concern for the Hilltoppers on Saturday. Outside of the six players who earn major minutes, only four points were scored by the rest of the team against KWC.

“We have to get some bench [players] ready to help us,” Stansbury said. “I’m playing some guys way too many minutes. We have to get some guys developed that we can trust. I got three guys that played 45 minutes plus you just can’t have that.”

Redshirt senior guard Junior Lomomba is playing point guard for the first time in his collegiate career and showcased his ability to score the ball from the position in the matchup with the Panthers.

The Providence transfer finished with a team-high 29 points scoring in multiple ways and getting guys open for good shots.

“His [Junior] challenge is this: he’s been a three player all his life and now he has to play point guard on both ends,” Stansbury said. “It’ll never be lack of effort. He’s one of those guys that’ll give you everything he’s got. I don’t expect him to score 29 points.”

Lomomba was able to take advantage of the smaller guards that were guarding him all night and take his game inside to score.

“Junior is a big, strong guy,” Stansbury said. “He can take advantage of some cats inside. He’s a straight line driver; he can create some fouls and he is strong enough to finish around that rim some.”

Senior forward Ben Lawson finished with a double-double performance once again with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Stansbury thought he had a good game but would like to see more from a player his size.

“Good solid performance, need more from him [Ben],” Stansbury said. “I want more from him around that rim. He catches that ball in traffic … go through somebody, dunk on somebody.”

The Toppers edged out the Panthers by a final score of 103-97 in double overtime.

The game may have been closer than many of the WKU fans may have liked, but the team sees it as a growing experience.

“I think it’s help us build a team chemistry, us gutting it out just brings us closer,” Thomas said.

Lomomba stressed that for the team to be successful this season the whole team needs to be involved.

“We are gonna need everybody’s contribution. I think some of the young guys came in and gave us some good minutes,” Lomomba said. “I think it’s gonna have to be a team effort every night.”

The Toppers will kick off the regular season with Alabama State University this Saturday, Nov. 12, in Diddle Arena at 7 p.m.

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 270-745-6281 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.