Basketball notebook: Toppers having flashbacks to 2012 tournament

Sophomore guard T.J. Price drives against Arkansas State freshman guard Josh Pierre during their semifinal Sun Belt Conference tournament game.

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Ray Harper said the comparisons between WKU’s run in this season’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament and the run the Toppers made last season is almost eerie.

“We’re in the Twilight Zone,” Harper said after Sunday’s 58-56 win over Arkansas State. “It’s just like last year. That’s what it seems like.”

Last year, WKU came into the tournament as a No. 7 seed before ripping off four consecutive wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

A No. 6 seed this season, the Toppers are a win away from repeating that feat.

Senior guard Jamal Crook said there’s another thing this run has in common with last season — the lack of respect being given to WKU.

“They counted us out last year, they definitely counted us out this year,” Crook said. “We didn’t come here to win one, two, three, we’ve got our fourth game tomorrow and the goal is to win that one.

Harper wants more from Fant in title game

Sophomore forward George Fant’s strong run through the postseason hit a brick wall Sunday against ASU.

Fant, who averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in the first two games of the Sun Belt Tournament, had a killer line Sunday night — he finished with five points, three rebounds and three turnovers while shooting 0-for-6 from the floor.

Harper said the Toppers tried to get Fant more involved in the second half after starting 0-for-3.

“We felt like we could get George rolling in the second half and he never got on track, but we had some other guys step up,” he said.

Fant could use to get back into the form he was in during last season’s tournament, when he was named the SBC Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

Harper said the Toppers will absolutely need the forward to be in peak form Monday against FIU.

“We don’t win if he doesn’t play well,” he said. “If he does not play well tomorrow night, we don’t win. It’s that simple. But I’ve been around him for two years now and I watched him for a long time in high school — I’ll make a prediction he’ll bring it tomorrow night.”

Price steps up in place of struggling Toppers

Fant and Crook may have combined for just eight points Saturday, but it didn’t matter — sophomore guard T.J. Price scored enough for everybody.

Price finished with 24 points and seven rebounds on 8-of-20 shooting while playing 37 minutes.

His most crucial moment of the entire night came in the final minute.

Price converted a steal with 22 seconds left and hit an uncontested lay-up to give WKU a 57-56 lead. The Toppers would not lose the lead for the rest of the game.

Harper said he knew WKU would stay in the game as long as Price stayed hot from the field.

“We knew we had a chance and when you’ve got a guy like T.J. Price in your uniform, I feel pretty good,” Harper said.