Johnson leads Hilltoppers past EKU

WKU’s forward Justin Johnson (23) makes a jump shot as Stony Brook University’s forward Tyrell Sturdivant (12) attempts to defend during the Hilltopper’s 67-66 win Saturday at Diddle Arena.

John Reecer

Sophomore forward Justin Johnson picked the ideal time to hit his first career three-point basket as a Hilltopper during Tuesday evening’s matchup with the then 6-1 Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

His three-pointer at the final buzzer gave WKU (4-3) a much-needed victory by a score of 86-84 after the Hilltoppers dropped two losses in the Gulf Coast Showcase last weekend.

 “It meant a lot at that moment,” Johnson said. “It was incredible to hit a shot like that to win a game, and I am just blessed.”

Johnson finished the game with a double double as he notched 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field while grabbing 11 rebounds.

“We thought he was capable of this,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “That is a young man that we put a lot of time and effort into recruiting because we thought that once George Fant left he could be his replacement. I think he is only touching the surface on where he could be.” 

WKU actually started off the matchup on a quick 21-2 run thanks to some early sharp shooting from senior guard Aaron Cosby. However, due to issues of turning the ball over, the colonels answered right back with an 18-2 run of their own.

“We got to start putting teams away early,” Johnson said. “We had a perfect opportunity right there but we just didn’t do it. We got ourselves in a dogfight and we were fortunate to win.

The Hilltoppers only held a 39-38 lead at halftime as the Colonels full court press turned the game back in their favor. The Hilltoppers gave up 15 turnovers on the evening.  

“They were able to turn us over with the press and we started to over dribble,” Coach Harper said. “That’s a defense that you beat by passing the ball, not by dribbling.”

However, WKU got used to the Colonel press in the second half and were able to build a lead down the stretch thanks in large part due to the shooting of senior guard Aaron Cosby.

Cosby turned in a season-high 26 points on eight of eleven shooting form behind the three-point line.

“I got a lot of shots up during shoot-around and my teammates did a great job of finding me,” Cosby said. “They did a great job getting me in an early rhythm.”

While the night did end with a Hilltopper victory, there is work still to be done as WKU gave up 84 points while the Colonels shot 50% from the field and made 60% of their 25 attempted three-pointers.

“We have to defend the three better than we did tonight,” Harper said. “We were able to respond with some big plays and we had guys like Cosby and Johnson who were not afraid to take the big shots. That was just a great ending to a good rivalry game and a good win for new, young basketball team.”

The Hilltoppers will be back in action Saturday night as they travel to Cincinnati to take on the 12th ranked Xavier Musketeers.