Toppers beat Kentucky Wesleyan in final exhibition

WKU forward O’Karo Akamune battles for postion with Kentucky Wesleyan JD Danforth (14) and Dominique Dawson (4) during a WKU free throw attempt.

Lucas Aulbach

WKU put the finishing touches on its preseason schedule Saturday night with an 83-71 home win over Kentucky Wesleyan.


The Toppers played in front of an official crowd of 4,576 at Diddle Arena in their second and final exhibition game.


Junior guard Caden Dickerson, who had 10 points, said he expects the Toppers to get better as they get rolling in the regular season.


“We’ve still got a lot of stuff to improve on,” Dickerson said. “We’ll go look at film and then Monday we’ll get at it and work on what we need to get done.”


Coach Ray Harper said earlier this week his starting lineup would change throughout the early season, but Saturday’s starting lineup featured just one player, senior center Teeng Akol, who didn’t start on Monday against Campbellsville.


Akol was joined in the starting lineup by thee guards — sophomore T.J. Price, junior Brandon Harris, and senior Jamal Crook — as well as sophomore forward George Fant.


Fant and Crook led the Toppers with 14 points apiece. Harris and junior forward O’Karo Akamune held down the boards for WKU, each with a team-leading eight rebounds.


Harris said the Topper offense clicked at times against KWC, comparing it to a Corvette from Bowling Green.


“We’re a V-12, but right now we’re at about a V-8 pace,” he said after the game.


While it was only an exhibition, it was a special game for Harper, who played and coached at KWC before joining the WKU coaching staff in 2009.


Harper said he was focused on winning despite playing his old team.


“I felt like, ‘Hey, they’ve got a purple jersey, let’s try and win the basketball game,’” he said on Saturday. “That was a focal point.”


Despite his desire to win, the coach said he owes much of his success to what he learned at KWC.


“I’ve got a lot of fond memories and spent a lot of time there,” he said. “The people there were good to me and my family – that will always be a part of me.”


The Toppers struggled to find a rhythm early in the game. They traded leads with KWC for much of the first half before a 26-6 run by WKU in the last 11 minutes of the half gave the Toppers a 44-32 halftime lead.


The second half was a closer affair. Each team scored 39 points as WKU experimented with different lineups.


Part of the team’s early struggles may have come from playing without its offensive centerpiece. Fant started the game but played only two minutes of the first half after picking up two early fouls and finished with 14 points in 18 total minutes.


He wasn’t the only one plagues with fouls – the twp teams combined for 58 fouls in 40 minutes of action. WKU connected on 24-of-36 free throws on the night while KWC was able to make 25-of-35.


Three-point shots were the key to the WKU win. The Toppers made 9-of-23 three-pointers while Kentucky Wesleyan hit only two in the entire game.


The Toppers now have two exhibition wins under their belt, but the games count from now on. WKU will open the regular season in Hattiesburg, Miss., next Saturday against Southern Mississippi.