MTSU proves to be too much for Toppers

Sophomore forward Stephon Drane is fouled by Middle Tennessee State forward JT Sulton in the second half of the WKU-MTSU game on Jan. 26, 2013.

Lucas Aulbach

MURFREESBORO, TENN. – Saturday’s game between WKU and Middle Tennessee State showed the gap between the Toppers and the top team in the Sun Belt Conference may be closer to a canyon.

The Toppers were beat up and down the court against the Blue Raiders, falling 72-53 at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. in front of a crowd of 10,105 people.

“We were beaten by a better basketball team today by a mile,” coach Ray Harper said after the game.

The road game marked the 128th meeting between WKU (11-11, 5-6 SBC) and MTSU (18-4, 10-1 SBC). The series began in the 1914-15 series – the Toppers won that game 31-23.

Saturday’s game was not such a low-scoring affair, though both offense faced stretches of inconsistency.

The Toppers spent the first half digging themselves out of a hole they’d dug themselves into.

The Blue Raiders rushed out to a 15-4 lead in the opening minutes and the game looked like a blowout in the making.

The Toppers battled back through the first half thanks in part to an advantage at the stripe. MTSU committed 16 first half fouls, twice as many as WKU, and the Toppers were able to make 11-of-18 free throws, helping to cut the halftime deficit to 30-23 in MTSU’s favor.

The Blue Raiders ran away with the game in the second half, though. WKU gave up a 14-0 run midway through the half, which included a five-minute scoreless stretch.

By the time WKU got out of its funk on a free throw from sophomore guard T.J. Price with 6:25 remaining, the Blue Raiders had a 61-40 lead.

The Toppers were unable to stop the MTSU offense as the game finished and left with a 19-point loss.

The Topper offense, meanwhile, was once again stagnant with senior point guard Jamal Crook on the bench with a broken foot. WKU hit 16 total shots, with only six coming in the first half.

A bright spot was sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar, who had been hampered recently by a hamstring injury. Kaspar led WKU with 14 points and added four rebounds and an assist.

“That’s the best I’ve seen Kevin move since probably a month, so it was good to see that,” Harper said.

Ball control was a defining statistic for WKU – the Toppers had just four assists to 18 turnovers on the afternoon, including a ratio of 1-to-12 at halftime.

Harper said those turnover numbers were a key to the loss.

” We can’t turn the ball over 18 times and beat a team like that,” he said. “We just can’t have it.

Sitting on a 5-6 record against Sun Belt, WKU will have its first chance to climb back to a .500 record Thursday at home against Troy.

Kaspar said a positive outlook moving forward could help the Toppers as much as any time they log on the practice court.

“We’ve just got to keep our heads up like coach said,” Kaspar said. “We’ve got to come back on Monday and keep getting better. We have nine games left and that’s our goal right now – win nine of them and keep getting better each and every day.”