Tops struggle, find a way vs North Texas

Senior forward George Fant (44) and UTSA center Kaj-Bjorn Sherman (45) jump for the opening tip of their conference matchup at Diddle Arena on Jan. 24. The Hilltoppers won 83-74. Luke Franke/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

With 4:04 remaining in the Hilltoppers 10th Conference USA game this season, WKU found itself trailing North Texas by six points. The Hilltoppers’ then finished the game on an 11-0 run to defeat the Mean Green 65-59 in a game WKU Head Coach Ray Harper described as “not pretty.”

WKU shot 20.8 percent (5-24) from three point range and was 10-26 (38.5 percent) from the free throw line. North Texas followed suit, shooting 12.5 percent (2-16) from beyond the arc and only making 9-20 (45 percent) free throws. Neither team seemed to pull away in a game dictated by fast paced defenses and missed shots.

“I don’t know how many games you are going to win when you go 10-26 from the free throw line,” Harper said. “We were able to gut out a win…If you’re going to have a chance at the end of the season you better win some like this.”

Seniors guard T.J. Price and forward George Fant carried a struggling Hilltopper team, scoring 19 and 14 points respectably. Fant also managed to grab a career-high 16 rebounds and his 10th double double of the season.

Sophomore forward Ben Lawson proved to be the difference maker for WKU. He scored eight points off the bench—hauling in four rebounds and five blocks. Lawson energized the Hilltoppers late with a pair of dunks and an alley-oop slam to give WKU a four point lead with 1:17 remaining.

“He’s huge. He’s getting better and better,” Harper said. “He doesn’t understand how good he can be. I think he’s starting to say: you might be right.”

WKU jumped out to a 31-14 lead in the first half, but the Mean Green (9-12, 3-6 C-USA) didn’t allow the Hilltoppers an easy victory. Five different players scored at-least eight points for North Texas, including bench player Armani Flannigan who scored a team-high 14.

The Mean Green only shot 28.8 percent from the field in the first half which allowed for the early WKU lead. But a second half shooting percentage of 48.3 allowed them to rekindle some momentum. They reached their largest lead of five points with 4:04 remaining in the game.

“We knew they were a good team, you can’t tell from standings and things like that how good a team is,” Lawson said. “They obviously are very talented they have length and speed. We knew it was going to be a tough game. Now, we should have taken the opportunity to extend the lead, but we didn’t. We grinded it out and got a good win out of it.”

The Hilltoppers advanced to 9-1 in conference play and now sit it first place in the C-USA standings after La. Tech’s loss at UAB. WKU’s next game will be Saturday, Feb. 7 vs. Rice.