Toppers roll in first SBC Tournament game

Sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar attempts to steal the ball from Louisiana-Monroe junior forward Millaun Brown while junior forward Kene Anyigbo follows in the second half of their Sun Belt Conference Game. 

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers got exactly the start they wanted to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Friday.

WKU (17-15, 11-10 SBC) rolled to a 74-60 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the first game of the conference tournament in Hot Springs, Ark. The Toppers will face South Alabama Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the second round.

The Toppers took control of the game early, hitting four 3-pointers in the first four minutes and taking a 14-5 lead into the first media timeout.

It didn’t get any better for the Warhawks from there – WKU led 46-24 at halftime after shooting 69 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.

However, coach Ray Harper said that despite the strong start, he thought his team took its foot off the gas in the second half and allowed ULM to get back into the game late. WKU allowed ULM to shoot 56 percent in the second half.

“I thought we played pretty well in the first half,” he said. “We shared the basketball and shot the ball extremely well. In the second half we got very sloppy with the basketball.”

Success from beyond the arc was a big key in the Topper win. WKU connected on 11-of-22 3-point shots in the game, including 4-of-5 in the first four minutes and 8-of-14 in the first half.

WKU had weapons when it came to deep shots – junior guard Caden Dickerson, sophomore guard T.J. Price and sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar each hit three 3-pointers. Dickerson finished with nine points, Price finished with a team-high 18, and Kaspar had nine points in the game.

Dickerson’s success was a sight for sore eyes for some around the program. The junior entered the year competing for a starting job before missing much of the season with a shoulder injury and had not been an effective part of the WKU offense lately.

Price said Dickerson, who finished 3-of-4 from the field, was due for a big game like Friday.

“Every shooter goes through a slump – I went through that at the beginning of the season,” Price said. “We were just great teammates to him. We knew it was going to come back because he’s always one of the first ones after practice to shoot and stay after.

“When you put in the hard work, the hard work’s going to come and show, and that’s what you all saw tonight – it carried over into the game.”

Harper said Dickerson’s shots looked good when he took them.

“He looked like the old Caden Dickerson,” Harper said. “There was no hesitation, he shot the ball with a lot of confidence – that’s a huge threat that we need this weekend.”

Sophomore forward George Fant had about as efficient game as one can have in the paint, hitting 6-of-6 shots to finish with 12 points. Senior guard Jamal Crook added six points and six assists.

The Toppers had a significant advantage on paper coming into the game – ULM (4-23, 3-18 SBC) was the lowest seeded team coming into the tournament and had been soundly beaten twice this season by WKU before Saturday.

WKU’s next opponent might present more of a challenge. USA (17-11, 14-6 SBC) earned the No. 3 seed and a bye in the Sun Belt tournament after a strong regular season. The Toppers and Jaguars split their two meetings this season.

Friday was the fourth win in five games for WKU, and Dickerson said he thinks three more could be on the way.

“We always think we can make a run,” he said. “We’re confident and we believe we can win this again.”