Christmas may have past, but the holiday mood still surrounded WKU Saturday night, sharing the wealth with 14 players notching scores on the stat sheet as the Toppers rolled past Brescia University 103-65.
Junior forward George Fant led all scorers with 23 points, 19 coming in the first half. He also collected seven rebounds, assisted on three Topper buckets and blocked a pair of shots. Junior guards Trency Jackson and T.J. Price each contributed 19 points of their own.
Jackson said that they aren’t worried about other teams. Rather, they are playing against themselves on a night-in, night-out basis.
“We tend to jump at a pass, jump at a shot fake,” he said. “We’ve just got to stay disciplined and get better as a team every day.”
“It’s the little things that we really need to fix and once we fix that, we’ll be a really great team.”
The 103 points the Toppers scored against Brescia was the first time since 2008 that WKU scored over 100 points. That game, famously, was against Drake University in the NCAA tournament in March 2008, when Ty Rogers’ three-point shot at the buzzer advanced WKU to the second round.
There wasn’t a whole lot for WKU to fix on Saturday night—the Toppers were bigger, faster and stronger than their Brescia opponents. For instance, WKU freshman point guard Payton Hulsey, listed at 6-foot-5, would be one of the tallest Bearcats.
There were other examples, too: Jackson pestering Brescia’s guards in the backcourts, resulting in turnovers and easy buckets; Chris Harrison-Docks grabbing a rebound and out-pacing Bearcats down the floor; Fant easily snagging lob passes over the outstretched arms of his opponents.
But that didn’t mean that the win would come easy for the Toppers. The Bearcats tied the game at 10, six minutes in, and stuck around until about midway through the first half. Coach Ray Harper said that WKU’s defensive rotations weren’t there at times.
“(It was) about what I expected,” Harper said. “First game back after the break, playing someone that they think they’re going to beat. And we told these guys, ‘This game is about us, it’s not about them. You’ve got to be disciplined; you’ve got to be mature enough to handle it the right way.’
“You know, we win by 38. It wasn’t going to be perfect, but I didn’t think we were selfish. I thought we did a good job with that—of sharing the basketball.”
The Toppers assisted on 20 buckets and every single player who stepped on the floor scored.
Brescia stuck around early, but eventually WKU’s superior size and athletic ability shone through and its scoring leaders—Fant and Price—took over.
Fant finished the first half with 19 points, six shy of his career-high, and six rebounds. Price connected on 4-of-5 from the field, registering 11 points in the first 20 minutes.
Brescia’s Brett Jackson hit a jumper from the elbow moments later to cut the Toppers’ lead to eight, but Fant answered on the other end, finishing inside off of an offensive rebound. On WKU’s next possession, the junior forward power dribbled into a two-handed dunk, giving him 17 points in the first half.
The Toppers lead jumped out to 17 when Price knocked down a corner-three, but Brescia’s Kyle Nixon answered with a long-range bucket of his own on the very next trip down the floor. Fant connected on a jumper at the left elbow with time ticking down to extend WKU’s lead to 16, 45-29 at halftime.
The second half was no different. That WKU continued to apply full-court pressure against the undersized and outmanned Bearcats, figuratively and literally means that Harper had no intentions of letting off the gas pedal. The Toppers continued to trap in the backcourt, raced down the floor for easy transition buckets and finally knocked down some long range jumpers.
After shooting just 1-of-7 from behind the arc in the first half, the Toppers netted 7-of-13 from downtown in the final 20 minutes.
WKU’s Jackson knocked down a three, the Toppers’ fourth of the half, to cushion the lead to 27, the largest of the night. After a goaltending was called against Fant, Harrison-Docks knocked down a wide-open long-range bucket to open the lead up to 28.
The Toppers coasted from there, knocking down open shots and continuing to force the Bearcats into difficult shots all over the floor. With just over eight minutes remaining and WKU up 31 points, Harper pulled Price, Fant and Jackson, allowing for his reserves to get some run.
A big win is just what WKU (8-4) needed as it is a calming precursor to its match up with Ole Miss and its hectic, three-point savant, Marshall Henderson, on Monday night.
The Rebels, a formidable SEC opponent, will come to Diddle Arena sporting an 8-3 record. The last time the Toppers played a regular season game against an SEC team was in 2010-11, when South Carolina and WKU battled in a two-overtime thriller. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
“They’re an extremely good basketball team,” Harper said. “They’ve got a lot of offensive weapons. You know, Marshall (Henderson) doesn’t even start, so they present a lot of problems. They can score from a lot of different positions and a lot of different guys can score the basketball.
“So it’ll be a real challenge for us, but hopefully one that we’re up to.”