Hilltoppers open Stansbury era with victory

Senior forward Ben Lawson (14) dunks during WKU’s 79-66 win over Alabama State on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, at Diddle Arena.

Matthew Stewart

The WKU men’s basketball team (1-0) opened up their regular season in Diddle Arena Saturday night with a matchup against Alabama State University (0-1).

Behind a team-high 16 points from redshirt senior guard Que Johnson, the Hilltoppers defeated the Hornets 79-66.

The Toppers were without starting sophomore forward Willie Carmichael as he was suspended indefinitely from the team before the game due to a violation of team rules.

“You never like to deal with it,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury said. “When you don’t make the right decisions, there’s accountability. There will be accountability in our program, always.”

When asked if Carmichael would return this season Stansbury said, “We will wait and see — don’t know.”

Despite missing a pivotal player, the Tops were able to open up the Stansbury era at WKU on a positive note with the victory.

“The first one is always the toughest,” Que Johnson said. “We played with a lot of energy and effort. Coach is always talking about communication and concentration; I feel like we did good on that.”

Que Johnson was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Toppers in the matchup.

The 6’6” guard earned his 16 points behind five for nine shooting from the field while grabbing nine boards, almost enough for a double-double performance. Johnson also posted one block and two steals in the effort.

“For the first time tonight I saw Que Johnson play at another level defensively,” Stansbury said. “I thought his effort was better. He got nine backboards, thought he was better offensively.”

“He [Stansbury] talked to me at shoot around,” Que Johnson said. “He asked me what’s going on, I focused on defense a lot today, effort and rebounding that was a big thing that he talked to me about. It was just more of a mindset for me.”

In the most recent exhibition match against Kentucky Wesleyan College, the Toppers had three players that were on the court for at least 45 minutes.

Saturday was a different story as the Toppers had 10 players that saw game action and chipped in for 22 bench points compared to 16 from the Hornets.

“It means so much, when you get guys in particular the amount of minutes we’ve been playing, you just can’t do that,” Stansbury said. “It leads to too many breakdowns. I thought that was a huge key just playing those guys tonight. They didn’t just play, I thought they all added too.”

Senior forward Anton Waters came off the bench to put up eight points on four for five shooting. Waters also grabbed eight rebounds and got a block in 19 minutes.

Another player that came in to add a spark off the bench was freshman guard Marty Leahy.

Leahy scored his first official points as a Topper with a three-ball from the corner and then hit another one from deep not too long after to finish with six points going two for three from three-point land.

“It [his first points] felt really cool,” Leahy said. “Before the game Stansbury just said go in and play my game. Pancake Thomas kicked it to me in the corner and I didn’t even think about it, I just released and it went in; it felt nice.”

Stansbury was happy with the play from the big Australian guard.

“He’s a guy that can make shots,” Stansbury said. “[Marty] is a smart player.”

Redshirt senior guard Thomas, the hero from the Kentucky Wesleyan College game, was the second leading scorer against Alabama State ending the night with 15 points and going eight for eight from the charity stripe.

Junior forward Justin Johnson and redshirt senior guard Junior Lomomba each finished with nine points and senior forward Ben Lawson had eight.

Next up for the Tops is Jacksonville State University from the Ohio Valley Conference, a conference WKU was once a long time member of, however, that’s not the only relationship the two universities have.

JSU is led by former Topper Head Coach Ray Harper. This will be the first game for Ray Harper in Diddle Arena after resigning as the head coach after the 2015-16 season.

Tip-off for the matchup is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Diddle Arena.

Stansbury saw improvements from his team, but knows there is still room to improve. The Tops will likely have a tougher test on Wednesday as JSU has already beaten the University of Tulsa this season.

“I thought we guarded that bounce better,” Stansbury said. “We still give up way too many offensive rebounds. Y’all have heard me talk about the concentration and communication part of it. We were better at that tonight.”

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