Toppers survive scare against SIU

Senior center Tenng Akol fights off teammate sophomore forward George Fant and Southern Illinois junior forward Davante Drinkard during their game Wednesday night.

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers scraped their way to a 58-57 win Wednesday over Southern Illinois at Diddle Arena.

Despite leading for the entire game, WKU (7-2) was far from dominant. Missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch let the Salukis get back into the game in the second half.

SIU even had a chance to win it toward the end. With WKU leading by one with 23 seconds to go, sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar missed the first shot of a one-and-one.

SIU pulled in the rebound and guard Desmar Jackson missed a jumper. Senior guard Jamal Crook rebounded the ball and was fouled but missed two crucial free throws, giving the ball back to the Salukis with six seconds to go. Another Jackson jumper didn’t fall, and WKU escaped with the win.

Coach Ray Harper said he needs his team to start closing games.

“We’ve got to finish better,” he said afterwards. “At some point we’ve got to shoot free throws better. There’s not enough time in the day for us to shoot more in practice.”

Sophomore guard T.J. Price led the Toppers with 17 points but suffered a sprained right ankle in the closing minutes and had to be helped off the court. His status moving forward is unknown.

Junior forward O’Karo Akamune, who finished with six points and six rebounds, also suffered a sprained right ankle at the end of the game.

Senior guard Jamal Crook started slow but finished with 10 points. He said WKU’s experience in close games helped the team down the stretch.

“We’ve been down before, had guys up on us,” Crook said. “It’s not something that we’ve never been through, we just have to stick together and keep fighting.”

The basketball team wasn’t the only team in the building — the Lady Topper volleyball team and WKU football team each received standing ovations from the crowd when they were recognized during the game.

WKU’s brief homestand will only last one more game — the Toppers will face IUPUI at Diddle Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday before hitting the road for their next three games.