Toppers drop first game of season in overtime

Lucas Aulbach

WKU couldn’t start its season with a win against Southern Mississippi Saturday.

The Toppers fell 67-64 in overtime to the Golden Eagles in Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, Miss.

The Toppers battled back from a bad start and poor shooting night to bring the game into overtime after the first 40 minutes. But missed free throws and turnovers buried WKU in the extra period.

It was the first game of the season for WKU (0-1). The team will be back in action on Tuesday at home against Austin Peay.

Coach Ray Harper said his team showed they need to improve in their first game.

“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.”

The Toppers were far from stellar from the field. They connected on just 21-of-64 shots for the night. The Golden Eagles weren’t much better, hitting 22-of-60.

Senior guard Jamal Crook was the centerpiece of the WKU offense in the first game of his last season for the Toppers. He had 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and had an additional seven rebounds and three steals.

The game had a strange start — the Toppers trailed 2-0 at the opening tip-off after being given a technical foul before the game began.

That technical foul was one of 25 personal fouls assessed to WKU on the night. The Golden Eagles fared even worse, picking up 28 personal fouls, including four players with five.

Harper said that’s no excuse for losing, even in a close game such as this one.

“We didn’t make free throws, we had open looks and sometimes you have to knock them down and tonight we didn’t,” he said.

Both teams were plagued by turnovers as well. WKU gave the ball over 25 times, including seven by sophomore forward George Fant, and USM committed 26 turnovers of its own.

Harper said many of those turnovers could have been prevented.

“They weren’t forced turnovers,” he said. “They were careless.”

The Toppers have 30 more chances to get it together before the Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins on March 8.

Harper said some of the things he saw against USM encouraged him.

“You want to give yourself a chance and we really did,” he said. “It would have been nice to get out of here with a win but tonight we weren’t able to do that.”