WKU blows 11-point second half lead to lose at Troy

WKU blows 11-point second half lead to lose at Troy

Cole Claybourn

Giving up double-digit second half leads has become an achilles’ heel for WKU this season.

It struck again on Saturday.

The Toppers (8-17, 4-8 Sun Belt Conference) blew an 11-point second half lead after leading by nine at halftime to fall on the road to Troy (8-15, 3-9 SBC), 83-77.

It was WKU’s second straight road loss after winning three out of four before the road trip.

Freshman guard T.J. Price, who led WKU in scoring by tying a career-high 17 points, said fatigue played a factor in the loss.

The Toppers played Middle Tennessee State on Thursday while Troy had a week off to prepare.

“Thursday we played, we gave it all we got,” Price told WKU’s Big Red Radio following the game. “We had one day to rest and come back and play against a good Troy team. Fatigue did play into this game and it got to us at the end.”

Interim Head Coach Ray Harper wanted nothing to do with the notion that fatigue affected his team.

“I don’t like to make excuses,” he said. “It was right there for us and we didn’t take it.

“It is what it is. It was a game where I felt like if we took care of business, we’d come out of here with a win and move forward, but we didn’t do that. We weren’t the better basketball team — Troy was.”

What Price and Harper could agree on was how Troy guard Alan Jones was able to torch the Toppers in the second half.

Jones hit a 3-pointer with 14:37 left to play to make it a 46-41 game, then hit another less than two minutes later to cut WKU’s lead to 49-46.

He then hit two free throws and got a wide open dunk to tie the game at 50 after a steal of a lazy pass from freshman guard Derrick Gordon.

Troy eventually took a 57-51 lead to cap off a 22-5 run.
Jones finished with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Troy hit six 3-pointers in the second half after making just one in the first half.
“In the first half we were playing defense, we were playing good,” Price said. “We came out in the second half and we relaxed too much.
“Once (Jones) got hot, there was no stopping him even when we started playing good defense on him. He was making almost every shot he was taking.”
That’s when WKU started rushing things on offense and settling for its first available shot on the perimeter, Harper said.
WKU was able to claw back, however, and take a 64-63 lead with 4:20 left to play off of two free throws from senior guard Kahlil McDonald.
But Troy took the lead back on the next possession and never gave it up the rest of the way. 
“All of a sudden they weren’t falling like they were in the first half. I thought we just kind of panicked a little bit,” Harper said of his team’s offense down the stretch. “But give Troy credit. They deserved to win the game today.”
It was the first time Troy had swept both games against WKU in a season. The Trojans beat WKU 67-65 in the final seconds at Diddle Arena on Jan. 7 in Harper’s first game as WKU’s head coach. WKU hasn’t won at Troy since the 2007-2008 season.
For the 15th time in 17 games, a freshman led WKU in scoring.
After Price, WKU was led in scoring by McDonald, who finished with 16 points and added four rebounds. Junior guard Jamal Crook and freshman forward Nigel Snipes both finished with 12 points. 
WKU’s leading scorer, freshman guard Derrick Gordon, didn’t get his first point until he made one out of two free throws nearly halfway through the second half. He finished with seven points.
After Alan Jones, Troy was paced by guard Emil Jones, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
WKU shot 50 percent from the field in the first half but shot 32.4 percent in the second half and finished shooting 40.6 percent.
Troy, on the other hand, responded from a 37.9 percent mark in the first half to shoot 52 percent in the second half.
Troy also capitalized at the free throw line, where it shot 73 percent compared to WKU’s 59.3 percent mark.
“They took advantage of us in some areas where we weren’t very good today,” Harper said. “They spotted them and took advantage of them.”