Pratt: In a rare event, the Toppers were out-worked

Head coach Ray Harper and the Topper’s bench argue for a penalty against South Alabama during the second half of WKU’s 69-62 loss against South Alabama on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.(Mike Clark/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

Some days you’re the bird and other days you’re the statue. Some days you hit and some days you miss. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

I’m not going to sit here and write all the clichés that come to mind when you think of reasons for why a team fails, but if the shoe fits…okay, I’ll stop.

In the case of Saturday night, the Toppers didn’t hit anything. Someone forgot to tell South Alabama that it had the worst record in the Sun Belt Conference due to talent not working hard, and someone forgot to tell WKU it was the league’s second-best team because of its hard work.

But someone flipped that script, and the Toppers transformed from a bird to a statue.

In some supernatural sense from the Sun Belt powers, it may have been meant for the Toppers to fall. Just minutes after tip in Diddle Saturday night, Troy – yes, the same Phil Cunningham Trojans that couldn’t touch WKU last Thursday – upset Georgia State for its first Sun Belt loss of the year.

Had the Trojans fit to convention and lost to the league’s best team, and had WKU also fit that idea and beat the league’s worst team, everything would have been fine and dandy for the Toppers to lock up a spot in the tournament.

“We knew coming in that they needed this game, mathematically, to get to the conference tournament,” junior forward George Fant said. “I feel like they came, and as bad as is it is to say, they wanted it more. They got all of the 50/50 balls, all of the extra rebounds. We slipped up and it’s a tough pill to swallow, but we have to bounce back.”

It was nearly comical to see how often the ball would bounce around the rim and not go in. It wasn’t that the Jags’ defense played tight; it was as if an imaginary lid was placed atop the basket. But that’s not an excuse for what happened on the opposite end of the court.

It’s at this point in the season when a team finds out if what it believes defines it really does indeed identify it. Are you confused yet?

It’s the nature of sports; you’re going to win some, and you’re going to lose some. It’s the nature of how you lose them that will define a team.

WKU lost a game Saturday night that wasn’t out of its nature on one end of the court. The Toppers’ second half was as good as any half of basketball they’ve played all season.

“Let some of those go in, we would’ve been fine,” coach Ray Harper said after the game. “We have to change that. We have to be the same whether those shots are going in or not. It’s much easier to play if those shots are going in.”

While the second half of that game brought life back into Diddle Arena, South Alabama had an answer for everything WKU threw its way.

While the Toppers upped their field goal percentage from 14 percent in the first half to 46 percent in the second half, the Jaguars upped the anti, going from 29 percent to 51 percent.

“They wanted it more than us,” senior guard Brandon Harris said. “We tried to kick it in there in spurts, but you can’t start 25 minutes into the game and expect to just pull it off, it doesn’t happen that way all the time. You can’t just expect a miracle all the time. You have to make stuff happen, and we didn’t.”

Harris’ ‘miracle’ statement may have epitomized what WKU basketball has been this year. They haven’t been lucky and pulled out miracles per se, they have just found ways to get out of a first-half funk and turn it into something special that vaguely demands the same reaction of a miracle.

There was a point in the game Saturday night where that same, bad basketball showed up, and people thought in the back of their minds that somehow, some way, the Toppers would pull out a win.

But time ran out for WKU, and talent worked harder than the hard workers.