Toppers looking to bounce back against Troy

WKU senior forward Akamune O’Karo protects a rebound from UALR forward James White during the second half of WKU’s 83-87 overtime loss against the University of Arkansas Little Rock Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU’s six game win-streak came to a screeching halt Monday at Arkansas State after its two leading scorers — juniors George Fant and T.J. Price —combined for just two points. It won’t have time to dwell, though, as the Toppers will host Troy 7 p.m. tonight in Diddle Arena.

“Our goal is to win the next seven,” coach Ray Harper said Wednesday at his weekly press conference. “That starts tomorrow night against Troy. If we do that, we control our own destiny as far as having a bye or double-bye.”

At the end of the regular season, the top two teams in the Sun Belt Conference will have a double-bye that immediately takes them to the semi-finals of the conference tournament. The Toppers (16-8, 8-3 Sun Belt), are still in second place and two-and-a-half games up on Arkansas State, even after losing on Monday.

But holding on to that position means getting more from Fant and Price.

“They’re our scoring leaders and team leaders,” senior forward O’Karo Akamune said. “We hope every day that they can help us win, but even when they can’t, I feel like we still need to find a way to come together and win.”

Price, who leads the team in scoring at 16 points per game, has hit just five of his last 23 shots from behind the arc and 16-of-53 from the field, but Harper thinks he can shoot his way out of that slump.

He likened his junior scorer to a baseball player who is in a funk.

“Good players play themselves out of it,” Harper said. “It’s like a good hitter in baseball. Usually the really good ones hit themselves out of it. I think he’ll be fine.”

In WKU’s loss against Arkansas State, Fant didn’t tally a point for the first time in his career and collected just one rebound in 18 minutes, but, again, Harper is confident that Fant will play his way out of that funk.

“I met with (Fant) yesterday and he’s fine. George is one of those guys  – he’s a great kid to coach,” Harper said. “He cares and you don’t normally see George not play well in consecutive games or whatever.

“In George’s defense, we didn’t get him a lot of touches in the areas where we would’ve liked to have gotten him the basketball. He played out of double-teams all Monday night. He’ll be fine and I’m looking for a big time bounce back game from him.”

Harper is expecting Troy (8-14, 3-7 Sun Belt) to send double teams at Fant Thursday and he has countered that tactic by having his guys double Fant in practice. He said that he thinks the team has been at its best when Fant is doubled, because it leaves someone on the floor unguarded.

When Fant sends the ball back to the perimeter, the team will work to make the extra pass and find the open shooter.

Akamune said that doubling Fant in practice helps prepare him for game-like situations.

“We started in practice being aware that George may be double-teamed as we go on,” Akamune said. “We’ve been defending George and trapping George as well. We’ve been simulating game situations and the more we practice on it, the more George gets prepared for it.”

Troy is just 3-7 in conference play, but it beat Arkansas State in Jonesboro, a feat the Toppers were unable to accomplish.

“It’s going to be a tough task tomorrow evening especially with the quick turn around,” Harper said. “Four games in a matter of a week basically. Played Monday evening and had to take off Tuesday so we only have one day of prep for them. I think our guys are locked in and ready to go.”