Rebounding propels Toppers to big win over ULL

Sophomore guard T.J. Price goes for a shot during the WKU vs. Louisiana Lafayette game at Diddle Arena on Thursday, January 17. WKU won 72-49.

Lucas Aulbach

When WKU took on Louisiana-Lafayette at Diddle Arena last year, the Toppers fell to a Ragin’ Cajun team that had six players on the court during the game-winning overtime shot.

ULL could have used some extra bodies on the court this time around. WKU (11-8, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference) rolled to an easy 72-49 win at Diddle Arena Thursday over the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Coach Ray Harper was happy with the win – the Toppers had dropped their past three games, all against Sun Belt opponents.

“We just competed tonight,” Harper said. “I thought we made good decisions with the basketball. We were better.”

The Toppers benefited from strong games from several key members of the team, with four players scoring in double-figures.

Junior guard Brandon Harris led the way, scoring a game-high 16 points and adding nine rebounds and five assists to the mix. Sophomore forward George Fant had 10 points while senior center Teeng Akol and sophomore guard T.J. Price each had 13 points of their own. Akol had an additional 10 rebounds and four blocks in his first double-double for WKU.

Harper said Akol had one of his better games of the season coming off the bench – freshman Aleksejs Rostov started at center.

“Teeng – third time coming off the bench this season have been his three best games of the year,” Harper said. “Teeng will be coming off the bench Saturday (against Arkansas-Little Rock).”

The coach was also impressed with the effort Price showed in his 37 minutes of play. The guard has been recovering from an ankle injury for much of the past month.

“I thought it was T.J Price’s best game of the year, bar none,” Harper said. “He had 13 points, he had no turnovers, played a little bit at the point, had great shots, he got other people involved, he played good defense. He’s back.”

Rebounds were a big reason why the Toppers were able to be so successful. WKU outrebounded ULL 49-31, a difference of 18 boards.

Freshman guard Percy Blade recorded 10 of those rebounds for WKU.

“Before every game, coach puts on the board ‘defense and rebounding,’ and we work on it every day in practice,” Blade said. “We really tied down and rebounded together as a team tonight.”

The game was close for much of the first half before the Ragin’ Cajuns hit a wall on offense.

ULL led 21-19 with under five minutes to go in the first half before letting the Toppers rip off a 13-0 run to close out the half. WKU led 32-21 at halftime.

It didn’t get any closer after the break. The Toppers rolled during a 10-2 run during the first six minutes of the second half, with six of those points coming from sophomore forward George Fant, to help put the game out of reach.

WKU may have benefited from a move the Ragin’ Cajuns made off the court. ULL guard Bryant Mbamalu, who averages 14 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, was suspended and did not play.

If their last game against each other is any indication, the Toppers may face a tougher challenge against UALR Saturday at 5 p.m. WKU lost to the Red Wolves by 14 points earlier this month.

Blade said he expects a totally different game this time.

“We’re going to come out with a whole lot of energy,” he said. “It’s going to be a different game from the get-go.”