Fant powers Toppers past Eastern Illinois in second half

Junior+George+Fant+shoots+two+points+in+WKU%27s+68-53+win+against+Eastern+Illinois+on+Nov.+30%2C+2013+at+EA+Diddle+Arena.+Fant+had+20+points+in+the+game.

Junior George Fant shoots two points in WKU’s 68-53 win against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 30, 2013 at EA Diddle Arena. Fant had 20 points in the game.

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU had a sluggish start but shot 14-of-21 from the field in the second half as the Toppers ran past Eastern Illinois 68-53 for their fourth win of the year.

“We moved the ball and got great looks in the second half,” Coach Ray Harper said.

But the first half wasn’t so friendly. The open looks were there but the shots weren’t falling. WKU (4-2) shot just 2-of-14 from three-point range in the first half.

“We missed a lot of shots in the first half, took too many threes, but they were wide open,” Harper said. “It’s hard to say ‘Don’t take open shots.’”

“We talked amongst ourselves as a team and told ourselves that we have to pick up the energy in the second half,” junior forward George Fant said after the game.

Fant delivered, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half.

There were stretches in the second half where WKU force-fed Fant in the post and told him to get a bucket.

The junior forward responded in a big way. Fant, who scored just six points and recorded only one rebound in the first half, exploded for 14 points and four boards in the second half.

Price, who lead WKU in scoring coming into Saturday night’s game at 16.6 points per game, logged just four minutes of playing time and didn’t take a shot from the field in the first half as WKU dug itself in a hole early.

EIU scored the first eight points in the game.  Harper, not liking what he saw early, subbed out his entire starting lineup just four minutes into the game. The Panthers jumped out to a 16-7 lead, before the Toppers went on a 13-2 run of their own.

Senior guard Brandon Harris, who returned for the first time since injuring his ankle in an exhibition game against Campbellsville, collected six rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench in the first period. He was a part of the second unit that provided energy to a lifeless WKU starting lineup.

Redshirt sophomore swingman Nigel Snipes gave the Toppers a much-needed lift in his seven minutes of action in the first half. The 6-foot-6 guard scored six points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field.

With the Toppers leading 26-24 and time running out, George Fant ran out past the three-point line to set a screen for freshman guard Payton Hulsey. Hulsey drove left, faked a shot and dumped the ball off to a trailing Fant, who was fouled at the rim with 0.4 seconds remaining. Fant knocked down both free throws to give WKU a 28-24 lead going into halftime.

The second half was a different story for WKU as the defense tightened up. The Panthers converted on just nine of their 24 second half shot attempts.

EIU cut the lead to six, 51-45, late in the second half. Junior guard Kevin Kaspar responded with a layup to extend the margin to eight. On the next WKU possession he sunk a three-pointer from the left corner to widen the gap to 11.

Harper said Kaspar was “terrific” and that he played a big part in getting the Toppers going in the second half. Kaspar finished with nine points off the bench.

Perhaps no bucket was bigger for Fant than his shot with just over four minutes remaining. The Toppers fed the big man the ball with a little less than five seconds left on the shot clock. As members of the crowd called for him to shoot, Fant turned over his right shoulder, fell back into a slight fadeaway and drained the jumper as the shot clock expired. The ball never touched the net and the Toppers never looked back.

WKU will have to turn around quick, as the team travels to Bowling Green State Monday to take on the 2-4 Falcons.

The Toppers only two losses – against Wichita State and Marshall – have came on the road but Fant said there’s no reason to change anything.

“I don’t think that none of our away games were just us getting beat,” Fant said. “I think we were just beating ourselves. We just got to go out there and play our game and capitalize on positions that we have and just score the ball and win.”