WKU fans harping for Harper as next head coach

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon celebrates a three-pointer by freshman guard T.J. Price during an 8-0 run against South Alabama, giving WKU their biggest lead of the game. at Diddle Arena on Feb. 4. WKU won 75-66 in front of 6,407 fans — the largest home attendance of the season.

Cole Claybourn

WKU fans could hardly make it more obvious as to who they’d like to see as their next coach.

As if setting a new season high in attendance for the second time with Interim Head Coach Ray Harper at the helm wasn’t enough, hundreds of fans came to Saturday’s game against South Alabama armed with paper cut-outs of the interim head coach’s face.

As the game neared its end, students led fans in a “We want Harper!” chant.

And as the band played “Stand Up and Cheer” after the Toppers’ 75-66 win, the sounds carried off Harper cut-outs that tuba players had placed in the bells of their instruments.

“Somebody’s going be hanging those out in their gardens somewhere to keep the birds or whatever away,” joked an exuberant Harper after Saturday’s game. “I think my mom enjoyed it. But again, I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from the students, the entire community. That’s what WKU basketball is all about.”

 The announced attendance for Saturday’s game was 6,407 — more than 1,000 more than the announced total of 5,172 for the Jan. 7 game against Troy, which was the season-high for attendance until Saturday. That mark came in Harper’s first game as WKU’s head coach.

The three games that WKU has played at Diddle Arena since Harper was named the interim coach have brought the three highest home attendance totals of the season.

Associate Athletic Director Todd Stewart said Athletics Director Ross Bjork received a two-page email last week that listed names in support of Harper.

Someone has also created a Twitter account with the handle “@KeepCoachHarp.”

“I think it’s great. We all think it’s great,” Stewart said of the support for Harper. “When we made the move back on Jan. 6, one of the main reasons that we made the move was the program didn’t have any energy. There wasn’t really any energy in the building.

“Now that we’re seeing these type of crowds, the fact that we had one of the top 10 crowds we’ve had in the last five years (Saturday night), 950 students — that’s great. That’s what this program’s all about. It’s great to see that kind of atmosphere in Diddle Arena again.”

The fans who have come to see the Toppers play lately have gotten a good return on their investment.

After coming up one successful possession away from a win against Troy, WKU defeated Arkansas-Little Rock by 12 before Saturday’s convincing win over South Alabama.

With a win over Florida International on the road last weekend, WKU has now won three out of its last four games.

The players said the revived fan base is paying dividends for them on the court.

“Our last couple home games, every home game our crowds have been getting bigger and bigger,” freshman forward George Fant said. “That’s just feeding us. We’ll go on our runs, and we hear our fans screaming — it just makes you want to go out there and go harder.”

Harper said following Saturday’s game that he and the players couldn’t thank the fans enough for the recent support.

“Oh wow. This is the crowd I remember,” said Harper, who grew up in Muhlenburg County and watched Topper games in Diddle Arena growing up. “This is our house, and that’s how we’re going to attack it each and every time we come to Diddle Arena. We’re not losing games at home.”

WKU will have to head on the road for its next game — a battle in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday against league-leader Middle Tennessee State.

Stewart said he’s hoping the Murphy Center will look a lot like Diddle Arena.

“I would think there would be a good contingent of the Hilltopper nation to head over there,” he said. “It might help a little more if it was a weekend instead of a Thursday night, but obviously Murfreesboro is an easy drive.

“I think we’ll have a pretty good contingent over there displaying their red and white.”