Aulbach: Topper newcomers show their strengths in Louisville loss

Junior guard Trency Jackson drives past Louisville freshman forward Mangok Mathiang during their game Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. WKU would lose the game 63-79.

Lucas Aulbach

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It might not have shown in a 16-point loss, but the Toppers got a vital dose of some new offense against Louisville over the weekend that should make them a better team in conference play.

WKU (5-4) was beat up and down the KFC Yum! Center court by No. 6 Louisville on Saturday, falling 79-63 to the Cardinals on their home floor. Guards Chris Harrison-Docks and Trency Jackson, however, showed they could be the spark that the Topper offense has needed in the early part of the year.

Scoring has been hard to come by this season for WKU players not named George Fant or T.J. Price – the two juniors average a combined 29.5 points per game, a huge portion of WKU’s average 63.6 points per contest.

Saturday, in a game where WKU matched its season average with 63 points, the two combined for their 29-point average – Fant contributed seven points, while Price dropped a game-high 22.

Jackson, a junior, started at point guard for the Toppers and despite hitting just 2-of-13 shots, he showed he could be a top-notch defender and was capable of creating his own shot – a desparately-needed combination that should help him fit right into the WKU lineup.

Redshirt freshman Harrison-Docks, meanwhile, might have been the surprise of the game. The less hyped of the two newcomers, CHD shined on offense, connecting on four shots and a pair of triples to give the Toppers 10 points.

Those two combined for 16 points and coach Ray Harper said he expects to see a lot more from the guards moving forward.

“They’re two guys that are really going to help us going forward,” Harper said about Jackson and Harrison-Docks. “It’s difficult to play for the first time after sitting out for a year – it just is. It’ll usually take two or three games to really get your game-legs under you, but at the same time I watch these guys practice and how hard they practice and what they bring to this team.

“We could’ve looked at it a lot of different ways and not played them as much, but we’re trying to get better each day, and I think these two are going to help us do that.”

Losing to an in-state rival by 16 is never fun, but there are positives the Toppers can take from this game.

Similar to last season’s NCAA Tournament game against No. 1 seed Kansas, the Toppers hung tough through the first half – WKU trailed just 31-28 after the first 20 minutes – before letting the second half get away from them. I think even the most optimistic WKU fans knew it would take a career day from more than a few Toppers for the team to escape for a win, so it should be encouraging for fans to see the Toppers hanging with a national title contender.

The addition of Jackson and Harrison-Docks also helped Price have one of his best games of the young season, connecting on 8-of-16 shots (4-of-7 from beyond the arc) on his way to 22 points. If those two can take defensive pressure of WKU’s best scorer, it can add whole new dimensions to the Topper offense.

So the Toppers might not be coming back to Bowling Green with an upset victory over the defending national champions. They’re coming back with a pair of playmakers that should help them in the second half of the season, though, and that might be an even bigger win.