Hilltoppers fall apart late in 71-61 loss at Stony Brook

Senior guard T.J. Price (52) makes a layup during WKU’s 63-64 loss against Belmont Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. Price played all 40 minutes of the game and scored 15 points. Mike Clark/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

Despite overcoming a halftime deficit of 10 points, the Hilltoppers were unable to hang onto a lead and fell to Stony Brook 71-61 in the second game of the NIT Season Tip-Off Event. WKU (1-3) has now lost three games in a row for the first time since February of the 2012-13 season. 

WKU took a one-point lead with just under five minutes to play before committing three-straight turnovers and missing four consecutive shot attempts. The Hilltoppers were unable to overcome eight second-half turnovers and a 61 percent free-throw percentage.

“When we were in transition we were pretty good, the game settled into half court, and we made some poor decisions,” Head coach Ray Harper said on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network. “Especially late in the basketball game, we had some really key turnovers.”

Senior guard T.J. Price led the team in scoring for the third time this season with 19 points that included 6-for-7 from the free-throw line. Price was the only Hilltopper in Tuesday’s game to shoot over 50 percent from the line and one of two WKU players to foul out of the game – the other being senior forward George Fant.

Fant broke his slump of bad games against the Seawolves. After averaging 4.7 points and shooting 35.3 percent from the field in the first three games, he finished the game with 12 points, going 6-for-9 from the field. Fant fouled out with 5:16 remaining in the game.

“(Fant) really came back and played well in the second half for us, he looked like the old George he just got in some foul trouble,” Harper said. “Unfortunately he got his fifth foul and that was not good for us at that point.”

WKU jumped out to an early 11-1 lead before Stony Brook responded with a 10-0 run of its own. The Seawolves then took control and went into halftime with a 39-29 lead.

After surges by Fant and Price to take a one point lead, WKU’s turnover and free-throw problems led to the Seawolves pulling away and matching their halftime lead – and later final – of 10 points.

Sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks was the only other Hilltopper to reach double-digits with 10. Harrison-Docks hit his first two three-pointers but was unable to hit another, ending the game 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.

Stony Brook (3-2) had four players post double-digits, including junior guard Carson Puriefoy who led all scorers with 21 points. Junior forward Jameel Warney posted a double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

“We told you this was not going to be easy,” Harper said on IMG Sports Network. “This schedule, the way it played out, there are going to be some challenging times and you’re better than you think you are right now. You are struggling with some confidence and that can happen with a basketball team.”

WKU’s next and final game of the NIT Season Tip-Off Event will be Thursday against Saint Joseph’s at Madison Square Garden in New York City.