Crook returns in WKU win

Lucas Aulbach

Senior point guard Jamal Crook helped the Toppers earn a Sun Belt Conference win Thursday without scoring a point.

Crook, in his first game since Dec. 8, and WKU (12-11, 6-6 SBC) topped Troy 65-61 in front of 4,244 fans in Diddle Arena.

It was important win for the Toppers, who had lost six of the last seven games, all in Sun Belt play.

Crook was the story of the game, though. Though he shot 0-of-7 from the field in his first game since breaking his right foot, he contributed six assists, four rebounds, two steals and controlled the pace of the WKU offense in 27 minutes of action.

His distribution helped WKU earn more assists than turnovers for the first time in nine games. The Toppers finished with 16 assists and 14 turnovers.

Coach Ray Harper said he was pleased with everything he saw from Crook.

“I thought he did some really good things,” Harper said. “He got a little frustrated when he wasn’t scoring the basketball but I told him, ‘You can impact this game without scoring a bucket,’ and I thought he did that.”

WKU’s night was almost ruined by the Trojans, though.

Troy led 50-49 with under 12 minutes to go before surrendering a 10-0 run to the Toppers in the next three minutes.

Sophomore guard T.J. Price was an instrumental part of the run, with two-three point shots and a lay-up coming in those few moments.

Price finished with 17 points, including 15 in the second half, and made 4-of-8 three-point shots.

The Trojans fought back though. WKU needed two free throws from junior guard Brandon Harris in the last 20 seconds to make it a two-possession ballgame. Troy missed three three-pointers in its final possession to seal the win for the Toppers.

Sophomore forward George Fant, who had 13 points and nine rebounds, said it was important for WKU to get back on track with the season’s end approaching.

“Right now we’re starting our season over,” Fant said. “We’re 1-0 right now in our eyes, so we’re just going to keep it moving.”

Crook’s return to action also took pressure off of the guards who ran the point in his absence. Junior Brandon Harris and sophomore Kevin Kaspar combined for 12 points while playing more time at shooting guard, their natural position.

WKU also benefited from strong play in the post from its two centers, senior Teeng Akol and freshman Aleksejs Rostov.

Rostov, the starter, scored 14 points and pulled in four rebounds, while Akol had an additional nine points. Both connected on shots from beyond the three-point line.

WKU will have the week off before taking on North Texas on the road next Thursday.