Toppers win sixth straight

Sophomore forward Stephon Drane scores a lay up during the first half of Saturdays game against IUPUI. WKU won in Diddle Arena 77-57. CONNOR CHOATE/HERALD

Lucas Aulbach

 The Toppers didn’t need their leading scorer Saturday as they rolled to a 77-57 win over IUPUI at Diddle Arena.

With sophomore guard T.J. Price on the bench with a sprained right ankle, WKU turned to senior guard Jamal Crook to lead the offense.

Crook delivered – he finished with a team-high 25 points and nine assists as he controlled the Topper offense through the rout. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as he exited late in the game.

“As a senior point guard, it’s my job to step up when I know that guys are out,” Crook said. “It’s my job to step up and make sure our guys understand what we’ve got to do as a team.”

After Wednesday’s close call at home against Southern Illinois, the Toppers were able to earn a sound victory against the Jaguars. The Toppers led by nine at halftime and extended that lead in the second half. WKU never gave up the lead to IUPUI.

“It’s what we were looking for,” coach Ray Harper said afterward. “It’s what I know we’re capable of.”

The three-point shot definitely worked in WKU’s favor against the Jaguars. The Toppers connected on eight of 21 three-point shot attempts.

Sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar and junior guard Brandon Harris were especially effective from long range, as each hit three to combine for six of WKU’s eight three-pointers.

Harper said the Toppers benefited from making the extra pass to get the best shot available.

“You’re without your top perimeter scorer (Price), and you shoot the best percentage you’ve shot all season from the three-point line,” Harper said. “Coincidence? I don’t know. We had good ball movement tonight.”

Harper has yet to say when he expects Price to return to the lineup, but he said he expects him to heal quickly.

The Toppers did well against an IUPUI team stacked with Kentucky natives – the Jaguars have five players from the state on their roster.

One of those players – sophomore guard James Shanklin – is from Bowling Green and played high school basketball at Warren Central with WKU sophomore forward George Fant. Each finished with 13 points, though Fant had six rebounds.

The Toppers may have to relish this win, because their schedule gets a lot tougher in the next few weeks.

After taking the coming week off for finals, WKU will return to the court Dec. 16 on the road against Murray State. They will go on to face Virginia Commonwealth Dec. 18 before WKU’s final nonconference game of the season – against No. 5 Louisville Dec. 22.

Harper said he hasn’t thought past the Murray State game.

“All I know is, we’ve got a tough one next Sunday against Murray State,” he said. “It’s the only one that matters. It’s the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next one. That’s how we’ve approached the first 10, and it’s worked out pretty well for us.”