Fant, Price bounce back: WKU rebounds with home win over Troy, 81-76

WKU junior forward George Fant lays the ball up to the rim during WKU’s win over Troy of 81-76 on Thursday Feb. 13, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. (Jeff Brown/HERALD)

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU never trailed against Troy, and the Trojans were never close enough to keep it interesting until the final two minutes. WKU once again proved that the next man up off the bench could be the difference maker for this team when the final buzzer sounds.

The Toppers (17-8, 9-3 Sun Belt Conference) saw two new individual career-highs en route to an 81-76 bounce back home win.

Senior forward O’Karo Akamune clipped a career-high 10 points and freshman guard Payton Hulsey hauled in a career-high nine rebounds.

The Toppers were shell shocked in Jonesboro, Ark., three nights ago, when their two leading scorers, forward George Fant and guard T.J. Price, combined for just two points.

On Thursday against Troy (8-15, 3-8 Sun Belt), the duet totaled 38 points on 11-of-19 shooting despite both facing foul trouble in both halves.

“George got us going early,” WKU coach Ray Harper said.

“I thought there was a stretch there in the second half where (T.J. Price) kind of carried us.”

Harper pointed to turnovers as the team’s biggest issue; the Toppers turned the ball over 16 times.

Troy coach Phil Cunningham, who served as an assistant coach under Harper at WKU last season, said that senior forward O’Karo Akamune is “who is making them so good right now.”

Akamune’s career-high 10 points and six rebounds came in 20 minutes off the bench.

“When I’m playing, I’m not really thinking,” the senior forward said. “I’m just running up and down the court trying to, you know, give out all the energy I have in me—a lot of hustle plays, a lot of rebounds, a lot of put backs, it just comes from energy.”

The Toppers needed that energy after Price and Fant picked up quick fouls in the first half.

Price picked up his second foul 10 minutes into the game. Fant was called for his second a minute later on an offensive foul. The Toppers led 22-15 without their two leading scorers, but extended that lead to 14 points, 35-21, after back-to-back buckets from Akamune.

WKU went into halftime with a 35-24 lead, out-rebounding Troy 23-12 in the game’s first 20 minutes.

Troy eventually cut the lead to seven, but the Toppers answered with a run, opening the score to 16 points, 53-37, after senior guard Caden Dickerson nailed a long ball near the top of the key.

From there, the Toppers didn’t look back. Freshman guard Brandon Price came off the bench and provided energy on both ends of the floor and the team, as a whole, sealed off Troy from any comeback attempt.

With the shot clock running down and WKU leading 69-58, T.J. Price took a dribble to his left and rose, jumping off one foot and fading ever so slightly. The ball banked in off the backboard and fell through the net as the buzzer sounded.

Troy eventually cut the lead to six points and then five points and then four points on three straight shots from behind the arc with just under a minute remaining.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome WKU, who shot 28-of-32 (87.5 percent) from the free throw line.

WKU will host South Alabama at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Diddle Arena.