Jackson leads WKU to 68-65 home win over Southern Mississippi

WKU’s Trency Jackson reacts to a foul call as the Hilltoppers take on Southern Miss at E.A. Diddle Arena on Wednesday, December 18, 2013. The Hilltoppers would go on to win 68-65.

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU guard Trency Jackson calmly stepped up to the free-throw line, with 6.4 seconds remaining and the Toppers up just one point against Southern Mississippi. 
“Step up, don’t think about the free throw,” Jackson, a junior, said. “Sink it. (You) can’t think about it. If you think about it, you’re going to miss it.” 
He didn’t think about it, netting both shots–neither touching the rim–to put WKU up three points. The Golden Eagles (9-2) couldn’t answer on the other end, as WKU picked up its sixth win on the season, 68-65.
Jackson led all scorers with 16 points in just his second game as a Topper. WKU guard Chris Harrison-Docks, another transfer in just his second game with the Toppers, added 11 points.
The Golden Eagles have excelled this season in creating turnovers and in the first half that’s what they did to the Toppers. WKU struggled with a high trapping 1-3-1 zone, committing nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes. But the Toppers defense was resilient, giving up just four points off those turnovers.
In all, the Toppers turned the ball over 17 times–nine of those from newcomers Jackson and Harrison-Docks. 
But the rust is to be expected according to Harper, moving forward means dusting off his shiny new guards and cleaning up the offense.
He said the team needs to find consistency both with its defensive effort and in taking care of the basketball.
“I think the offensive efficency is getting better,” he said. “But we still have a lot of areas to improve. I don’t know there’s an area of the game that we don’t need to continue to work on daily.”
Still, the Toppers found early success, taking a five-point lead before a 12-2 USM swung the game in the Golden Eagles’ favor. Back-to-back jumpers  from senior guard Caden Dickerson and a long range jumper by junior guard T.J. Price gave the Toppers a 22-19 lead with just over five minutes remaining.
Dickerson, who contributed five points off the bench, said WKU’s win Wednesday night was a total team effort. Four Toppers–Jackson, Harrison-Docks, Price and junior forward George Fant–scored in double figures.
“Everybody was playing their role,” he said, “I mean, we took what the defense gave us and we played hard on defense so it was a good team win.”
Late in the first half, Harper went with a four guard lineup of Harrison-Docks, Jackson, Hulsey, Price and Adeoye, who helped on the weak-side to block a USM shot attempt as time expired as WKU went into halftime with a five-point lead, 30-25.
Back-to-back threes from Harrison-Docks and Price and a wide-open two-handed slam by Fant opened up WKU’s lead to nine points early in the second half.
With the Tops up two, USM’s Aaron Brown was called for a flagrant foul for slamming Price to get the ground on a fastbreak. Price split the pair of free throws and Jackson nailed a three-pointer from the right corner on the ensuing possession.
Moments later, with the shot clock running down, Price nailed a fadeaway jumper and was fouled in the process. He netted the free throw to extend WKU’s lead to seven with just under nine minutes remaining.
Aaron Brown scored on a post up move to cut the Toppers’ lead to four with just under four minutes remaining, and WKU answered by feeding Fant in the post. The junior forward was fouled and nailed both attempts from the stripe.
USM’s Jerrold Brooks sunk a three-pointer five feet behind the arc to bring the Golden Eagles within three, 64-61, with 1:13 left to play. Fant’s layup attempt through traffic rimmed out and Neil Watson was fouled on the other end–he hit both free throws, bringing the game within one point.
Price was fouled on the other end and sunk both attempts from the stripe. With 26.9 seconds remaining and down just three points, USM ran a quick-hitter with Michael Craig finishing on a cut to the basket. Jackson, for WKU, was fouled and sent to the line with 6.4 seconds remaining, and didn’t think about his free throws. 
Harper knew Jackson and Harrison-Docks would make immediate impacts, he just didn’t think it would happen two games into the season.
“They’re coming along quicker than I anticipated,” WKU coach Ray Harper said. “I didn’t think they’d be this good this quick, but I’m glad they’re on our side.”