In Saturday’s rematch of last year’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament title game, the Toppers once again proved the Mean Green wasn’t mean enough as they earned a 70-64 victory in Diddle Arena.
WKU (10-5, 4-0 SBC) has now won 12 straight home games and remains unbeaten in conference play.
In the last meeting between the two teams, senior center Teeng Akol put up a team high 23 points against UNT (5-8, 0-2 SBC). Tonight, the 6-11 center went off again with 13 points, six rebounds, and five blocks.
Sophomore guard T.J. Price said there must be something about UNT that brings the best out of Akol.
“I guess when he sees that green it makes him mad,” Price said.
Price and Akol got the Topper offense firing on all cylinders to start the game. WKU’s first 15 points were made from behind the three-point arc, including two apiece Price and Akol.
WKU ended the first half shooting 63 percent from three-point range.
The Topper defense shut down the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year and All-American Tony Mitchell of UNT, holding the 6-8 forward to only seven points while committing four personal fouls.
WKU entered halftime up by 11, but UNT would rally in the second half with the help of a 7-0 run and a three from Clarke Overlander to put the Mean Green back in front by one midway through the second period.
Sophomore forward George Fant sparked the Toppers with back-to-back buckets, capped by a dunk to put WKU up ahead by five following the UNT run.
Six late free throws by freshman guard Percy Blade, a walk-on, iced the game as WKU won its tenth straight conference game.
Coach Ray Harper said his team’s toughness kept them in the game down the stretch.
“We knew how talented they were, but our guys keep finding ways and won’t give in,” Harper said. “I’m just proud of them. That’s who we are.
“We’re not going to go out and be the most talented team on the floor, but we need to be the toughest and I believe we were today.”
Price led WKU with 16 points, followed by 14 from Fant. Junior guard Brandon Harris left the game late with a head injury but finished with nine points, nine rebounds, and six assists.
The Toppers will continue conference play next week on the road, beginning Thursday at Arkansas-Little Rock at 7:30 p.m. followed by a trip up the road to Jonesboro, Ark., Saturday to take on Arkansas State at 7:05 p.m.