Freshmen fuel home win over FAU

WKU freshman forward George Fant fights for a rebound Wednesday February 16, 2012 against Florida Atlantic at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. WKU won 64-57.

Lucas Aulbach

A couple of big double-doubles helped WKU come back from an 11-point first-half deficit and top divisional rival Florida Atlantic 64-57 on Thursday night in Diddle Arena.

The Toppers turned up their energy in the second half after trailing by eight at halftime. WKU (9-17, 5-8 Sun Belt Conference) finally got its first lead with 10:58 to go and was pulled away in the game’s closing minutes.

Freshman forward George Fant posted 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Toppers while freshman Derrick Gordon added 13 points, including nine in the second half, and 12 rebounds.

“I’m just glad we got the win, no matter if I got the double-double or not, I’m just happy that we won,” Gordon said. “As long as we win I don’t care if I have two points, five points, it doesn’t matter. I just want to win.”

After the game, Interim Head Coach Ray Harper had high praise for Gordon, who had been in a slump the past few games. Harper called his performance against FAU (11-15, 7-6) “terrific.”

“Derrick Gordon, when he is at his best, he’s high energy, he’s rebounding the basketball and he’s defending extremely hard,” he said. “When he’s doing those things, he’s still gonna score you some points.”

Gordon’s 12 rebounds were a bright spot on the boards for the Toppers, who got out-rebounded 21-14 in a first half that was full of missteps for the Toppers. A more physical second half helped WKU finished with 38 rebounds, just one behind FAU’s 39.

Harper said the Toppers were out of sync for the beginning of the game.

“I thought the first half we were a step slow, we were a step behind everything,” he said. “They got to all the loose balls, they beat us to the offensive glass.”

Fant, who had nine first half points, was the only WKU player to score more than four points in the half. The Toppers were just 9-of-25 shooting in the game’s first 20 minutes.

WKU pulled it together in the second half, where they outscored FAU 40-25.

While the Toppers played catch-up for most of the start of the second half, the end of the half was much more back-and-forth, with the teams trading one-point leads for nine minutes.

WKU took a 54-53 lead on a layup from junior center Teeng Akol with 2:41 left and never trailed from that point forward.

Fant said the Toppers kept their confidence throughout the nine lead changes at the end of the game.

“There were times in the huddle where — maybe at timeouts or media timeouts — Coach Harper just kept on saying, ‘we’re going to win this game. We’re going win this game,’” he said. “We just believed it.”

Neither team was able to do much from beyond the arc, with WKU and FAU combining to go just 4-for-28 from the perimeter. The Toppers hit just one of the nine three-pointers they attempted, six of which came in the first half.

Free throw shooting played a much bigger role in the WKU win. The Toppers shot 22 more free throws than FAU and went 19-for-27 at the line.

Harper was pleased with his young team’s production, noting that the top two performers for WKU tonight are still playing their first season of college basketball.

“We’re still a young basketball team,” he said. “We got 33 points and 22 rebounds tonight out of two freshmen. They’re going to get better. What they’re starting to learn and grasp is that every possession is important.”

The win on Thursday was almost the complete opposite of the game the Toppers and FAU played in January. That night, WKU led for most of the game before FAU took the lead late and ended up winning 67-66.

Fant said he felt like the Toppers redeemed themselves for that loss in their win on Thursday.

“It was the same way it happened down there but a little closer of a game,” he said. “We turned the tables on them and it feels great.”

The Toppers won’t have much time to celebrate the win. WKU will travel to Mobile, Ala., tomorrow and will take on South Alabama on Saturday night.

Harper said the Toppers should continue to improve before the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark.

The Sun Belt Tournament beigns on March 2.

“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “Are we totally there? No, we’re not. We’ve got about two weeks to make sure we’re there before we get to Hot Springs, Arkansas.”