Hilltoppers beat UAB, end nation’s longest win streak

WKU guard McNeal, Chris (1) drive the ball down the court during a WKU-University of Alabama at Birmingham basketball game on Thursday Jan. 28 at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

The WKU men’s basketball team (11-10) did not trail for the entirety of Thursday night’s win over the Conference USA front-runner University of Alabama at Birmingham (17-4). WKU ended the Blazer’s 14-game winning streak, the nation’s longest coming into the contest, with their 69-62 victory.

Heading into the game the Hilltoppers had a few reasons to make a statement with the opportunity to knock off the number one team in the conference.

“We were motivated to get this one and to protect our home court,” senior guard Aaron Cosby said. “They had the longest win streak coming into today and they made some comments before today’s game that we didn’t like. They were looking past us, and looking forward to the Marshall game.”

The Tops started the game on the right foot. Head Coach Ray Harper’s team opened the game on a 14-6 run which would set the tone for the rest of the evening.

“It was really exciting,” junior forward Ben Lawson said. “I don’t think we have ever had that good of a start as a team. That was a great feeling it got us all going. I think we just felt like we were going to win that game and there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win.”

WKU managed to knock down timely three pointers and came up with key defensive stops to go up by 14 points in the first half. UAB then turned up the offensive intensity and went on a 9-0 run to tighten the game. The Tops headed into halftime up by a score of 40-35

“We came out on fire,” Cosby said. “I think tonight we played for each other a little bit more and came in with the mindset you know no matter what stick together, keep fighting, keep chipping away.”

The second half started off slow for the Hilltoppers as the Blazers were able to pull within one point with 12:02 remaining in regulation.

However, Cosby lifted the team with a pair of threes to put the Toppers up 54-47.

WKU was then able to control the rest of the game thanks to 12 points from Cosby in the half to go along with the team’s 48 percent shooting from the field.

The Hilltoppers had four players scoring in double figures Thursday night. Lawson was perfect on the game going 4-4 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line, finishing with 14 points, one block and one steal.

“I thought he was a difference on the defensive end tonight with his alertness,” Harper said. “If he’s alert like that with his size and his length, he changes shots.”

Freshman guard Chris McNeal managed to score 10 points while dishing out five assists on the evening.

Junior guard Fredrick Edmond played a major role in the game on the defensive side of the ball while filling the stat sheet with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block.

“I thought he was the difference for us on the defensive end,” Harper said. “He was flying around making some plays tonight.”

Cosby led all scorers with 20 points, four rebounds and two assists as he clocked in 39 minutes on the night. 

“It was a good win against a very good basketball team,” Harper said. “The thing I was most proud of is how they stuck together. It was obvious that our energy and our passion was there, it’s what we have been searching for.”

The Hilltoppers will look to build upon the win on Saturday when they take on long-time rival Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders currently sit in second place in the CUSA standings. 

“Our next game is the most important game,” Lawson said. “Especially with Middle (Tennessee) it’s a big rivalry and we are going to be fired up for that one. They are going to be looking at the tape not thinking that we are a joke now, so we are going to have to prepare even harder.”