Toppers roar back for road win

Lucas Aulbach

WKU fans got a blast from the past Saturday night as the Toppers stormed back in the closing minutes to beat Troy 75-71 at Trojan Arena in Troy, Ala.

The game looked like it was straight out of WKU’s improbable run to the NCAA Tournament at the end of last season. The Toppers trailed for almost the entire first half and much of the second before closing the game on a 10-1 run in the final five minutes to seal the win.

Coach Ray Harper said one of his team’s biggest strengths is its tenacity, and it showed tonight.

“I’ve been around these guys enough to know we’ve figured out the game is 40 minutes and we’re going to play 40 minutes,” he told WKU Radio afterward. “We may have some stretches where we don’t play perfect basketball but we wont quit. We’ll fight you until the end and that’s what we did tonight.”

They couldn’t have done it without T.J. Price. The sophomore guard was all over the court for the Toppers, scoring 23 points — 17 coming in the first half — and pulling in 11 rebounds.

Sophomore forward George Fant had a double-double of his own with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while senior center Teeng Akol finished with 14 points and nine boards.

The play of those three under the basket saved the game for WKU (6-2, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference), giving the Toppers opportunities to come back after missed shots and limiting Troy’s offense. WKU ended up outrebounding the Trojans 43-23.

The Trojan (4-5) offense was strong in other aspects of the game, shooting 51 percent and connecting on seven three-point shots.

Harper said he was especially impressed with Akol’s performance — eight of his nine rebounds were offensive, and he saved several possessions for WKU.

“He was the Teeng Akol that we’ve got to have to be successful this year,” Harper said.

Down 60-47, the Toppers faced a 13-point deficit with 14 minutes left in the game. They battled back into the game though, chipping away at the Trojan lead on a 24-10 run that culminated with WKU finally taking the lead for good with two minutes to go.

Harper said the Toppers were able to turn the game around by playing the second half with more fight and hustle.

“You want guys to be aggressive and that’s what I thought our guys were,” he said. “They were aggressive in the second half. I thought the most aggressive team won the first half and I thought the most aggressive team won the second half.”

WKU will come home from its trip south with two wins and an undefeated start to conference play. The Toppers will face Southern Illinois at Diddle Arena Wednesday.