Next man up: Toppers show strength in numbers

WKU head coach Ray Harper speaks to the Toppers 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

Ask anyone who follows Sun Belt Conference basketball and they’ll tell you that WKU goes as its junior duo, George Fant and T.J. Price, go. Ask anyone within the WKU basketball program and it’s a different story.

The Toppers have 11 different guys that play at least 10 minutes a night. On its recent road swing through Louisiana—which ended in two WKU wins against equal competition—WKU’s depth was on full display.

Saturday afternoon’s win came against a feisty and talented Louisiana-Lafayette squad. The Ragin’ Cajuns boast two of the top three scorers in the conference, point guard Elfrid Payton and forward Shawn Long, both of whom are NBA caliber talents.

Fant answered the challenge of guarding Long on one end and attacking him relentlessly on the other. WKU assistant coach Shawn Forrest, who was an assistant at ULL last season, told WKU Radio that Fant was due for a big road game.

“I think he wanted the challenge of guarding Shawn Long,” he said. “I think right now a lot of people consider Shawn the best post man in the league, so George welcomed the challenge.”

WKU, as a team, however, was challenged in the second half as its leading scorer, Price, was sidelined for nearly 10 minutes with foul trouble.

Transfer guards Chris Harrison-Docks and Trency Jackson answered that challenge. They scored 18 and 17 points respectively and connected on 12-of-14 free throws, with several of those coming late to ice the game.

“We came out with a ‘W’ and that’s what we wanted to do,” Jackson told WKU Radio. “We came in, we knew it was going to be a hard fought game. Coach kept stressing that we came out with the win. That’s the main goal, we came out on this road trip 2-0 which is a great goal.”

Junior forward Aaron Adeoye and senior forward O’Kara Akamune didn’t have glamorous stat lines, but each big man provided valuable minutes off the bench, giving the Toppers a physical inside presence with each playing stout interior defense.

Forrest told WKU Radio the win against Lafayette was “a collective team effort.”

“I thought those guys did a heck of a job with Shawn Long,” he said. “Those guys (Adeoye and Akamune) were huge for us.”

Two nights earlier, WKU’s depth came in handy, once again. The Toppers ran away with an 18-point win at Louisiana-Monroe despite just seven points and three rebounds from Fant.

Price was the lead man against the Warhawks, finishing with a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds. He netted seven shots from three-point range and played a big part in WKU’s big win.

But he wasn’t the only part. Senior guard Caden Dickerson contributed nine points, sophomore center Alex Rostov added eight and Adeoye chipped in six of his own.

That seems to be the theme for this Toppers team: Fant and Price are reliable scorers and bring consistently stingy defense on the other end, but if one of them isn’t scoring, other people will step up.

The Toppers have won their first four conference road games this season; that “next man up” mentality has played a big part in that.

Earlier in the season at South Alabama, Fant scored just 10 points, but Harrison-Docks finished with 11, including the game-winning floater with seconds remaining. In its next game at Troy, Price finished with only nine points, seven short of his season average, but Dickerson, Akamune and Harrison-Docks each added nine of their own.

That trend continued in the Louisiana road swing, it resulted in two wins and it’s the reason the Toppers now sit alone at second in the conference, right behind first place Georgia State.

Before embarking on the road to the Pelican State, coach Ray Harper made sure his team was ready to work.

“We’ve got a business trip this weekend and hopefully we go take care of business,” he said.

The Toppers—all of them—took care of business.