Fant leads Hilltoppers to victory over No. 25 Old Dominion, 72-65

Senior forward George Fant (44) goes up for a shot against two Bowling Green State defenders during WKU’s game against the Falcons on Dec. 3. Fant led the Hilltoppers in scoring with 14 points and notched four blocks in WKU’s 62-52 victory. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

Senior forward George Fant put up the best first-half of his basketball career on the way to leading WKU past No. 25 Old Dominion 72-65 Saturday in Diddle Arena. Fant scored 20 points and ten rebounds in the first half to help WKU (10-5, 3-0) to its first victory against a ranked opponent since 2009.

Fant, who finished leading all players with 24 points and 13 rebounds, produced his fourth straight double double performance in Saturday’s win. He went 9-14 from the field, 6-8 from the free throw line and set a physical tone against a team who had won ten straight games and is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history.

“Our guys were getting him the basketball and I think they understand the more he gets it the easier the game becomes for them,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “You have to have an inside presence and we’ve got one and he’s playing at a high level right now.”

“George is a monster; he is the best 6’6 post player I know. I see him do this every day in practice,” sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks said. “When he does this, it’s kind of expected. He’s a great player, he’s one of our leaders and we depend him to do things like that, without him we are not in that game.”

Senior guard T.J. Price scored under 20 points (15) for the first time against a Division I opponent in five games but he did hit three three pointers. That mark was enough for him to pass Anthony Winchester for the most made three pointers in WKU history with 248. Along with Price, Harrison-Docks scored 19 points and played a crucial role late in the game hitting seven-out-of-eight free throws all in the second half.

“It feels good but this is what we prepare for every day,” Harrison-Docks said. “Coach is telling us all year it’s a process and when you buy into the process and work hard every day and take care of business these are the good things that can happen and now we have to stay to that, keep a level head, which we will, and continue to win.”

WKU committed seven turnovers against the Monarchs, only three more than their season-low they had against Charlotte Thursday. The Hilltoppers, who committed zero turnovers in the second half Thursday, only turned the ball over once in the second half against Old Dominion.

“In the preseason, I had the opportunity to watch them every day, who you’re seeing now is who they were—We’ve gotten back to who we were preseason. They love playing together, they play for each other and they don’t care who scores and because of it, we’re winning some basketball games and look pretty darn good doing it.”

In the first half, it was the George Fant show. Fant grabbed all six of his offensive rebounds in the first half and posted double double numbers before going into the locker room. Old Dominion started the game strong leading WKU 11-4 with 14:56 remaining. But WKU, led by the physical play of Fant, continued to keep the score close by out-scoring the Monarchs in the first half in the paint, 18-12, and in second chance points, 14-6. WKU closed the half on a 9-2 run which gave them a 36-29 halftime lead.

The Hilltoppers came out in the second half to an electric crowd at Diddle Arena. WKU reached their largest lead of the game of 12 after an 8-1 run with 8:36 remaining, giving the Hilltoppers a 53-41 lead. But the top ranked Monarch did not go away and trailed the Hilltoppers only by four with 1:20 to play and WKU leading 63-59. WKU’s free throw shooting finished out the game though, shooting 11-12 in the last 2:21.

Old Dominion was led by Trey Freeman and Richard Ross who scored 20 and 13 points respectably. No player for the Monarchs reached double figures in rebounds which led to WKU winning the rebounding totals 37-31 including on the offensive end 14-9.

The final two minutes were dictated by free throws as four players for WKU including Harrison-Docks went 16-21 in the second half from the line. The Hilltoppers finished the game 24-31 from the strike and ultimately held on to win their first game against a ranked opponent in Diddle Arena since 1986.

The win was also WKU’s first victory against a ranked opponent in the Ray Harper era. Before the game, Harper was 0-6 in his four years coaching at WKU against ranked opponents. After the game, Harper was quick to thank the fans for coming out to the game.

“Terrific. I want to thank those guys,” Harper said. “If we could generate that type of atmosphere and energy every night, you’re going to see us become the program we can be. We’re getting there, we are creeping back quickly, but we can’t do it alone.”

WKU is now 3-0 in Conference USA play and are on a five game winning streak. After winning six-of-seven at home the past month, the Hilltoppers will play their first ever Conference USA road game against Florida Atlantic Thursday Jan. 15.