Slow start at Minnesota haunts WKU in 76-54 loss

The WKU men’s basketball team huddles before the start of their Nov. 15 game against Austin Peay. The Hilltoppers defeated the Governors 77-70. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

The WKU men’s basketball team traveled to Minnesota for its first matchup of the 2014 NIT Tip-Off on Tuesday, but left Williams Arena with a 76-54 loss to the Golden Gophers after committing 25 turnovers and converting on just 18 field goal attempts.

The 25 turnovers marked the highest single-game total in each of past two seasons. The Hilltoppers (1-1) totaled 23 turnovers twice a season ago.

The Toppers committed 16 of their 25 turnovers in the first half, a half that ended with WKU trailing 46-28. WKU finished shooting 18-of-57 (31.6 percent) from the field and 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) from three-point range.

“We knew what we were going to see,” Head Coach Ray Harper said to Zach Greenwell of the Bowling Green Daily News, following the game. “It wasn’t anything that was unexpected, other than the 25 turnovers. Like I told our kids, you turn the ball over 25 times, you’re not beating anybody. I don’t care who it is.”

Redshirt junior forward Nigel Snipes and freshman forward Justin Johnson accounted for 30 of WKU’s 54 points. Snipes, who scored two points in WKU’s season opener against Austin Peay, finished the game with a career-high 15 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes, while netting four of his six three-point attempts.

“(Snipes) was aggressive tonight,”  Harper said to the Daily News. “He didn’t hesitate. He’s always been a little hesitant — not as aggressive. We’ve been on him about it. Tonight he was aggressive. He showed he can make shots. Good athlete. He’s a long, athletic wing, and if he continues to play like this, he’ll play a lot.”

Johnson finished with 15 points of his own, to go along with seven rebounds. He was 6-of-8 from the field in a team-high 25 minutes.

Senior guard T.J. Price and senior forward George Fant combined for five points on 2-of-11 shooting with 10 turnovers.

Harper continued to reach into his bench as all 13 of the available players logged minutes in the first half against the Golden Gophers. Junior guard Ayinde Sprewell logged his first minutes as a Hilltopper, checking into the game within the first five minutes of the first half.

The Hilltoppers return to Diddle Arena this weekend as they take on Belmont on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Bruins come into the game with a 1-1 record as of press time after a loss to Wright State in their season-opener and a win at Lipscomb.

By press time, Belmont has four players who average over 12 points per game. Junior guard Craig Bradshaw leads the group with 32 total points in two games while shooting 54 percent from the field.

Sophomore guard Taylor Barnette is quick to follow, averaging 15.5 points per game while shooting 62 percent from three-point range.

“They’re good. They’re really good,” Harper said to the Daily News. “Totally different team. Great three-point shooting, very disciplined. It’ll be a huge test for us. We’ve got to bounce back and be a lot better.”