Hilltoppers advance in C-USA tournament with win over North Texas

WKU’s forward Justin Johnson (23) gets a slam dunk during the Hilltopper’s 84-76 win over North Texas in the second round of the C-USA tournament on Wednesday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Johnson led WKU with 17 points.The win advances the Tops to the quarterfinals where they will face number 1 seed UAB at noon on Thursday. Mike Clark/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

The WKU men’s basketball team was looking to go 2-0 on the season against the Mean Green of North Texas in their first game of the 2016 Conference USA tournament on Wednesday.

The Toppers got what they were looking for with a 84-76 victory over UNT, improving their record to 17-15.

WKU’s freshmen and seniors both found ways to showcase their skills during the game.

Freshman point guard Chris McNeal dished out nine assists against the Mean Green defenders while also putting up nine points of his own.

“Chris was passing the ball, making the right passes,” sophomore forward Justin Johnson said.

Redshirt senior forward Nigel Snipes had a solid game, going 4-7 from three-point-range and putting up 16 points in the contest. Snipes came off the bench and hit a three to get the crowd in the game, which eventually helped WKU go on a run that ended with the Toppers up 40-28 at the half.

The Toppers came out of the intermission picking up right where they left off. WKU shot 59 percent from the field on the day as well as 73 percent from the charity stripe, compared to a 47-percent performance from North Texas.

The Hilltoppers managed to go up by as many as 17 in the second half thanks to timely shots from Snipes and Johnson.

Johnson was the leading scorer for WKU, coming away with 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds and one assist.

Johnson may have been the high man on the stat sheet, but Head Coach Ray Harper highlighted another player that made a difference for the team.

“Our player of the game today was Ben Lawson. We felt like his presence on the defensive end really made a difference,” Harper said.

The big man from England finished with nine points, six rebounds and four blocks.

“I’m happy with my performance. There’s a few things I want to correct for tomorrow. Obviously UAB is going to be a good game,” Lawson said.

The Toppers will take to the court again tomorrow at noon against the top team in the conference, University of Alabama, Birmingham. WKU has a split record against the Blazers on the season and will look to improve to 2-1 against UAB on the season.