Topper offense, defense producing different results early

November 30, 2013, Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA_ | Junior George Fant looks to shoot the ball in WKU’s 68-53 win against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 30, 2013 at EA Diddle Arena.

Tyler Lashbrook

Many students used their three-day Thanksgiving break to travel back home, stuff their face with food and enjoy — or not enjoy — the presence of their family.

WKU’s men basketball team, however, was hard at work. On Tuesday, the Toppers traveled to Huntington, W. Va., to take on Marshall. Four days later, Eastern Illinois came to Bowling Green for a Saturday night showdown.

The results were mixed, with WKU losing on the road and earning a win at home.

Constant foul trouble was one reason the Toppers fell to the Thundering Herd 74-64 Tuesday night. Junior guard T.J. Price and junior forward George Fant both fouled out with over four minutes remaining in the game.

WKU also turned the ball over 23 times.

Freshman point guard Payton Hulsey led the way with a career-high 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the loss.

Saturday night was a different story. WKU took better care of the ball, turning the ball over just 12 times, and no Topper fouled out.

“Coach (Harper) always says we’ve got to take care of the ball,” junior guard Kevin Kaspar said after WKU’s win over EIU. “That’s the main thing.

“I mean, if you take care of the ball, move the ball, pound the ball inside, you did (your) job. I think everybody did (their) job in the second half.”

The Toppers surrendered the first eight points of the game to EIU, but battled back to take a four-point lead heading into halftime.

A monster scoring output in the second half put the game out of reach. The Toppers shot 14-of-21 from the field in the final 20 minutes and finished the game shooting 50 percent as a team, the most efficient scoring output of the season.

Fant scored 20 points,  with 14 of them coming in the second half, and collected five rebounds. Price chipped in 13 points, all of which came in the final 20 minutes.

The Toppers have struggled shooting from the floor this season, ranking no. 304 in the country in field goal percentage at 39.5 percent and no. 313 in three-point percentage at 27.8 percent.

That poor percentage has resulted in the nation’s no. 315 offense, with WKU scoring 63 points per game.

Coach Ray Harper has said before that he’s OK with the team shooting poorly if they are taking smart shots. He’s also said the staple of a good team is defense, and WKU’s defense has been one of the stingiest in college basketball.

Harper said after WKU’s 68-53 win over EIU that he was pleased with his team’s defensive efforts.

“That has to be our calling card,” he said.

Through the first six games, defense has been his team’s “calling card.”

The Toppers’ defense ranks no. 15 in the nation, surrendering just 60.8 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot just 41.3 percent from the field.

That scrappy defense has forced opponents into a ton of turnovers. According to NCAA’s stat database, WKU forces a turnover on 21.4 percent of its defensive possessions, good for no. 29 in the country.

The Toppers will put that defense to the test next Saturday at Southern Illinois at 3:05 p.m.