WKU’s second Conference USA game in program history was much different than their first. Unlike their runaway victory against Marshall on Sunday, WKU (9-5, 2-0) had to battle until the very end to reach a 74-66 victory over Charlotte. The Hilltoppers used 13 made three pointers Thursday to achieve victory in a game where WKU was out-rebounded 49-29.
WKU starters scored 71 of its 74 points which included a team high 21 points from senior guard T.J. Price– his sixth straight game with 20+ points against Division I opponents. Senior forward George Fant scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his third straight game posting a double-double. Senior guard senior Trency Jackson and sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks each scored 15 points. Combined, the group was 13-28 from beyond the arc and shot 44 percent from the field.
“When you outscore a team by 30 points from the three point line, that’s a lot of points to make up,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “I thought the second half we were better on the defensive end. Once we went down 49-42 we established an inside game…We really got George (Fant) going, we got him the ball down in the low post area, not only did we get it to him he finished. He went and made plays for us down the stretch. All the kids showed a lot of grit and a lot of toughness down the stretch.”
It wasn’t just the three point shot that kept WKU in position to win the game late, it was their ball security that ultimately allowed a team, who blew a 14 point lead in the first half and was out-scored 34-16 in the paint, to regain their confidence and win the game. WKU committed a season low four turnovers, which included a spotless zero turnover second half, compared to the 49er’s 16 for the game. The extra ball security and a more concentrated effort to rebound near the end of the game allowed for WKU to hold on against the No. 61 RPI rated team in the country.
“Towards the end of the game, we made it our job to go get the late ones (rebounds),” Fant said. “We had eight guys on the glass tonight, we just have to be get back to practice and be ready to build on that again.”
After jumping out to a 14 point lead with 11:19 remaining in the first half, Charlotte battled their way back using a 10-0 run with 7:36 remaining in the first half to cut the deficit to 33-26. It was then the strong play of Charlotte’s bench that allowed the 49ers to tie the game at 40 at halftime.
Torin Dorn came off the bench to lead all scorers with 26 points. He also grabbed ten rebounds and was 10-16 from the field. To go along with Dorn, starting center Mike Thorne Jr. scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The two double doubles kept Charlotte in the game when WKU was making 50 percent of their three pointers (9-18) at halftime.
In the second half, WKU struggled to overcome small leads by the 49ers. Charlotte reached their largest lead of the night with 13:53 left in the game when they led by seven. But George Fant finished the game as a senior leader needed to as he scored nine points and eight rebounds in the 19 minutes he played in the second half. The stats also included a block with 2:27 remaining that was pivotal to WKU’s victory.
“It’s a good league and Charlotte is a very good basketball team so obviously I’m happy to get a win,” Harper said. “Same time we know we have a huge challenge in less than 48 hours so can’t enjoy it too much.”
Saturday WKU faces No. 25 ranked Old Dominion in their third conference game of the season. WKU is on a four game win streak, their longest of the season, and have won 12 of its last 15 games at Diddle Arena. Jackson addressed after the game he knew what needed to chance if his team was going to pull off the upset.
“I have to come out with more intensity,” Jackson said. “I feel like I have to get that intensity throughout the whole team and once the whole team gets it, then we are going. Once all of us have energy and intensity, we’re hard to stop and we play great defense once we get that. We just have to get that for 40 minutes and the tougher team is going to win.”