Depth lifts Tops to 77-70 season-opening win over Austin Peay

Senior guard T.J. Price (52) drives past Austin Peay’s Chris Horton (5) and Khalil Davis (11) during the second half of WKU’s Nov. 15 game against the Governors. Price led all scorers with 22 points and was a perfect 4-4 from three-point range as WKU defeated APSU 77-70. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

Throughout the preseason, Head Coach Ray Harper expressed excitement about his team’s depth. On Saturday, that depth was put to use as WKU notched a home season-opening victory against Austin Peay, 77-70, in a game that saw 12 of the available 14 Hilltoppers log minutes in the first half.

The win marked the Hilltoppers’ (1-0) first season-opening win in three years, behind an impressive performance from senior guard T.J. Price. Price led all scorers with 22 points in limited minutes and helped WKU jump out to an early lead despite foul trouble. He shot 4-for-4 from three-point range and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line to go along with four assists and four rebounds.

“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Harper said. “Sometimes it’s about the flow of the game, sometimes it’s about foul trouble, sometimes it’s about focus. We were trying to find some right combinations. The one guy that I felt like we had to have on the floor was T.J.”

Price also moved to No. 23 on WKU’s all-time scoring list in the contest with 1,258 career points.

“I’m just taking advantage of whatever the defense gives me,” Price said. “I’m the leading scorer now, but probably the next game we’ll have Trency (Jackson) be our leading scorer or Chris (Harrison-Docks) be our leading scorer. We’re not trying to be too selfish about scoring points, we’re just trying to get the win.”

Senior guard Trency Jackson and sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks were the only other Hilltoppers to reach double-digit points Saturday, as Jackson recorded 14 while Harrison-Docks netted 13.

The Hilltopper guards combined to score 56 of the team’s 77 points.

Freshman forward Rob Marberry was a bright spot for WKU, as he played 18 minutes in his first game as a Hilltopper and scored seven points to go along with three rebounds.

The Hilltoppers now shift their focus to the 2014 NIT Season Tip-Off event. WKU’s first game will be at Minnesota Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The Golden Gophers are coming off an 81-68 loss to Louisville on Friday.

Minnesota has experience with five seniors on their roster. Senior guard Andre Hollins performed admirably in Minnesota’s loss to Louisville, netting a team-high 22 points after going 2-for-6 from the three-point line in 35 minutes.

“They’re terrific,” Harper said. “(Andre) Hollins, (Deandre) Mathieu — those are two quick scorers. They’re a good basketball team. They returned four starters off a team that won the NIT. We know the challenge that’s ahead and we’ve got to get a lot better real quick.”

Minnesota, under second-year Head Coach Richard Pitino, finished the 2013-14 season 25-13 and will be looking for its first win of the season on Tuesday against the Hilltoppers.

“It is a big opportunity for us,” Price said. “I looked it up — they are one of the top-50 teams in the country. That would be a great win for us if we get it done.”