Tops fall at Marshall to move to third in C-USA

WKU sophomore Ben Lawson slam dunks for an easy two during the teams matchup against UTEP.

Billy Rutledge

The WKU basketball team traveled to Huntington, West Virginia on Saturday to take on, familiar foe, Marshall. The Hilltoppers defeated the Thundering Herd 81-62 in their Jan. 4 matchup. However, Marshall secured revenge this weekend in front of over 6000 fans, with a 87-82 win, during a “White Out” game in the Cam Henderson Center.

After losing to the Hilltoppers just over a month ago, Marshall was able to expose some of WKU’s defensive flaws. Marshall was 12-29 from beyond the arc, including 9-18 in the first half of their win over the, previously tied for first place, Hilltoppers. The 87 points allowed were the second most this season, behind a 93-81 loss at Murray State in December. 

“We knew, coming into the game, that they would be a great shooting team,” sophomore forward Ben Lawson said on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network, after the game. “We’d seen from tape that they had built their offense since the last time we played them, and unfortunately, our defense didn’t stand up to their offense tonight.”

The loss follows a 72-68 home loss to Rice, on Feb. 7. This marks the Hilltoppers’ first back-to-back losses, since the three-game losing streak in November. The Hilltoppers’ RPI has dropped from 69 to 103 in a two-game span, putting them in third place in the Conference USA standings, after being part of a three-way tie for first, just a week ago.

“We’re just going to have to go back to the drawing board,” Lawson said. “The team almost looked comfortable against us, when usually teams are looking pressured.”

Head Coach Ray Harper changed the starting lineup, prior to the game at Marshall, on Saturday. Freshman forward Justin Johnson recorded his first career start, in place of junior forward Aleksejs Rostov. The starting lineup of sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks, Rostov and senior guards Trency Jackson and T.J. Price and forward George Fant is 14-4 for the season, when together.

With the Hilltoppers leading 30-25, Marshall rattled off an 11-0 run with 7:27 remaining in the first half.

A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Austin Loop extended the Herd’s lead and combined with the play of junior guard Justin Edmonds, Marshall sailed to a 47-43 halftime lead.

Harrison-Docks kept WKU in the game with 11 points and five rebounds, before halftime. He finished the game with 20 and seven respectively, both one shy of career-highs. Lawson added 12 points off the bench and six at the half.

Marshall held on late with a 5-0 run and 3:37 left in the game, giving the Herd a 74-69 lead.

Jackson and Price both finished with 13 points, while Fant tacked on 10 points, seven rebounds and surpassed the 1500 career-points mark. Fant became the 16th player in WKU history to reach the mark.

Loop led all players with 23 points, while Edmonds scored 15 for the Herd. Sophomore forward — and NBA prospect — Ryan Taylor added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Marshall’s fifth win of their last six games.

The Hilltoppers will stay on the road for the next two games. They will play UAB Thursday, Feb. 19 in Birmingham, Alabama, where the C-USA men’s and women’s championships will be held in March.