0-1 Toppers face first home test

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers went through their first set of growing pains as a team Saturday when they fell 67-64 in overtime to Southern Mississippi, but they won’t have much time to take in the lesson.

WKU (0-1) will face Austin Peay (1-0) at Diddle Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday in its home opener.

The Toppers played well during stretches against the Golden Eagles on Saturday but couldn’t overcome a cold start and an overall poor shooting night.

Coach Ray Harper said he saw a lot his team can improve on in Saturday’s loss.

“We need to use this as a learning experience,” he told WKU radio. “We gave ourselves opportunities. Tonight, we didn’t take advantage of them. Tuesday night, we have to be better.”

The Toppers didn’t do themselves any favors in the first half — they fell behind 10-0 in the first half and took six minutes to score their first points.

Sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar said that weak start was a big part of why WKU lost.

“We had a slow start — we can’t have those in the beginning of the game,” he told the Bowling Green Daily News. “We bounced back in the second half, but it is what it is, and we lost in overtime.”

Senior guard Jamal Crook was WKU’s leader on the court on Saturday, finishing with 17 points and seven rebounds.

He said he was pleased with the way his teammates responded to the early deficit and fought back into the game.

“One game doesn’t dictate your whole season,” Crook told the Daily News. “We’ve still got fight in us, and we fought hard.”

Austin Peay, which earned a win in its season opener Friday against Samford, will be a decidedly different opponent for WKU tonight.

The Governors will use a bigger lineup than USM, which used smaller guards and forwards against the Toppers and relied on speed getting up and down the court.

They’re getting used to the new season as well. Austin Peay went 12-20 last season but graduated four seniors and lost the bulk of its scoring and rebounding over the offseason.

WKU beat Austin Peay, located about 60 miles from Bowling Green in Clarksville, Tenn., in 2005, the team’s last meeting.

After falling in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Saturday, the Toppers will have the benefit of playing in front of a home crowd Tuesday.

WKU was 8-7 at home last season, though the Toppers went 5-1 after Harper took over in early January. Austin Peay, meanwhile, went 4-12 on the road last year.

Harper said the Governors should offer a good challenge to the Toppers on the court.

“Very well-coached, very well-disciplined,” Harper said of Austin Peay. “A little different than Southern Miss, bigger and a little more physical than Southern Miss, but it’ll be another test for us Tuesday night.”