Hilltoppers notch 73-62 win over Southern Mississippi

Senior guard Trency Jackson (3) shoots a three-point shot in the face of UTEP’s Omega Harris (2), during overtime, on Thursday, Jan. 22, in Diddle Arena. Jackson led the Hilltoppers in scoring with 14 points and led the team to a 71-66 victory in overtime. Luke Franke/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

The Hilltoppers’ nine-game winning streak was snapped by Louisiana Tech on Thursday night, with a score of 69-56. The team rebounded with a 73-62 win over Southern Mississippi, on Saturday.  

Both contests were road games for WKU, who has struggled away from Diddle Arena this season. The Hilltoppers improved to 15-6 overall, 8-1 in Conference USA play and 4-4 away.

“The pressure was the difference in the game. We had to go small to get another ball handler in,” Head Coach Ray Harper said on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network after the loss in Ruston, Louisiana. “We had some guys that looked out of character against the pressure.”

George Fant’s eight-game streak of registering a double-double was snapped in Louisiana as well.  He would not register against Southern Miss either. 

“We rushed some things and didn’t do what we needed to do,” Harper said. “When we drove the ball, we needed to play off too or make the play from someone else, and we didn’t do that a lot … we tried to make it for ourselves.”

Saturday proved to be a new leaf for WKU, as senior T.J. Price tied a career-high 30 points on 8-for-15 shooting to lead the Hilltoppers to a 73-62 win over Southern Miss.

“They did a great job, offensively, of grinding it out,” Harper said. “There were times when we had to guard for nearly the entire shot clock, but I thought we were disciplined.  Especially in the second half, we did a good job of hanging in there and finishing plays.”

For his 30 points on the night, Price shot 8-for-15 from the field and 11-for-13 from the free throw line.

Senior Trency Jackson notched 14 points in the second half and fellow senior, George Fant, had 12 points and nine rebounds.  Sophomore forward Ben Lawson had a big impact in the paint, defensively, for the Hilltoppers.

“I thought Ben was really good today. He really got in there and altered some shots around the basket,” Harper said. “I thought Trency, once he got going in the second half — he hit a three, and all the sudden he got a steal — I think the light really clicked on for him.”

WKU held a 34-28 lead at halftime, but took the lead with 11:56 remaining in the first half at 11-9 and never let it go.

The Hilltoppers went on to score seven of the first eight points after halftime, leaving the score at 41-29 with just over 16 minutes to play. Both teams shot comparably from the field, but WKU went 24-for-32 at the free throw line, while Southern Miss (6-14, 1-8) was 15-for-22.

WKU has won 10 of its last 11 games and has reached the 15-win mark before March, for the first time since the 2007-08 season.  

WKU returns home to play North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m and will face Rice on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.