Men’s Basketball Notes: Gordon takes over once again

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon throws up a shot at the Sun Belt Tournament against UALR on Sunday, March 4 in Hot Springs, Ark. Gordon scored 25 points to help WKU win 68-63. 

Cole Claybourn

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Derrick Gordon was so in the zone Saturday night that he didn’t have any idea what his stat line looked like.

“Oh my God, no I didn’t know I had 15 rebounds,” the freshman guard said. That was on top of 25 points. “Just like before, I like to go get rebounds. I wasn’t the only one helping out. It was a group effort. I don’t like to think individually. This really was a team effort.”

Much like in WKU’s first round win over Florida International, it was the star freshman who took the game over, knocked down shot after shot grabbed 13 of his rebounds on the defensive end in 38 minutes of play.

His performance helped dig WKU out of a 13-point deficit to complete a comeback win over No. 2 seed UALR in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Quarterfinals at Summit Arena.

It was nothing new for Gordon, who has started in all 31 games for the Toppers, averaging 31 minutes per game.

His team-leading 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game average in the regular season was good enough to land him Third Team All-Sun Belt honors, making him just one of two freshmen to earn All-Conference honors.

And when it came to make a big play on Saturday night, Head Coach Ray Harper wasn’t surprised to see who was converting it.

“Old Reliable,” Harper said of Gordon, the same thing he called him after WKU’s win of FIU in the first round. “You find out in big games about big-time players. You’ve all seen them if you’ve covered sports. You’ve seen big-game players. They like the limelight. The bigger the stage, the better they like it.”

Perhaps an overlooked stat was Gordon’s two assists with no turnovers and no fouls committed. The assists weren’t surprising — Gordon is second on the team in assists with 2.1 per game through 31 games.

But he also leads the team in turnovers with 2.7 per game.

To Gordon, it was doing what he had to do to help his team win.

“We’re not going home. We just kept fighting,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. We just kept fighting and fighting. It didn’t matter if they were up by 20, we were going to keep fighting. We just pulled away.”

Fant comes up big down the stretch

While Gordon and others were scoring to help complete WKU’s comeback against UALR, freshman forward George Fant was just as big on the defensive end.

The 6-foot-5 forward from Warren Central High School came up with three crucial blocked shots during the run in which WKU took the lead.

The first one came after WKU had take a 57-56 lead and UALR was threatening to retake the lead. Fant swatted a Courtney Jackson layup and WKU turned it into two points the other way to take a 59-56 lead that it didn’t relinquish.

“I just had to time it. I think I timed it pretty good,” Fant said. “I didn’t really guard (Courtney Jackson) as much, but I was timing him. He likes to go over his right shoulder with his left hand and maybe take two or three bully dribbles, I timed it pretty good. Also, with the guards, again, timing. That’s the thing you’ve got to do.”

WKU had six total blocks on Sunday, giving them 126 for the season. That’s good enough for fifth most in a season in school history.

Free throws an issue for Toppers against UALR

WKU likely wouldn’t have had to make such a comeback if it could’ve hit its free throws on Sunday night.

The Toppers went 21-for-41 from the free throw line — 51.2 percent.

Harper said that type of performance was more of an anomaly than anything else and said they’ll have to laugh about it.

“We’re not going to miss 20. We’re a good free-throw shooting team,” he said. “I can’t explain it. We led the conference in free throw percentage. Someone said in the other day in the last four or five minutes of the game we’re shooting almost 80 percent as a team. I hope we get to the free throw line a bunch tomorrow because I know our guys, they’ll step up and make them.”

Toppers not worried about fatigue going forward

After two hard-fought wins — including one that required a 13-point comeback — fatigue could be an issue against a more rested Denver team in the semifinals on Monday night.

But Harper will be the last person subscribing to that notion.

“You guys worry about that,” he said to the media following the game. “We’re not worried about fatigue. We’ll be ready to roll. I told you before we left — they’re gonna much happier they’re playing four games in four days than having four practices in four days. You’ve been to one of our practices, I promise you it’s much tougher than what’s getting ready to happen (Monday) night at 8:30.”

Other notes

-Harper earned his 350th win as a college coach Saturday night

-WKU has recorded double-digit assist totals in five straight games

-Gordon moved into fourth place on WKU’s all-time list for points scored in a season for a freshman. His 374 points passed Kannard Johnson scored 370 in the 1983-1984 season.