COLUMN: Derrick Gordon was ‘back’ on Thursday — just like he dreamed

Brad Stephens

How much was WKU’s game on Thursday against Florida Atlantic weighing on Derrick Gordon’s mind?

So much that when the Toppers’ freshman guard laid down on Wednesday night, all he could think about was the events of the next night in Diddle Arena.

“I was dreaming about this game,” Gordon said smiling after WKU’s 64-57 win. “Whenever I dream about something like that I know I’m going to come out big.”

Gordon hadn’t come out too big in recent games.

The Plainfield, N.J., native had shown some first-year fatigue the last two weeks, shooting 6-of-31 in his last three games.

But on Thursday, Gordon looked like the blue-chip recruit he was advertised as out of high school, notching 13 points and 12 rebounds in the Topper win.

Interim head coach Ray Harper said that’s exactly what he expected from Gordon.

“I told someone this morning and I told someone yesterday, ‘Derrick Gordon will be back tonight,'” Harper said. “…I thought he played terrific.”

Gordon played one of his best games of the year on Thursday in large part because he played within his own limits.

He didn’t try to take the game over on the perimeter as he’s had a habit of trying to do at times this year.

Gordon passed up contested 3-pointers, not taking a single one all night.

His patience allowed WKU to work within its offense to find freshman forward George Fant, who was dominating in the post (20 points, 10 rebounds).

Then when a teammate missed, Gordon was relentless in crashing the offensive boards.

Six of his 12 rebounds were offensive, and he converted four of those into immediate baskets.

Take out Gordon’s eight second-chance points, and the Toppers walk out of Diddle on Thursday with a loss.

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

That energy Gordon brought may have been his most valuable asset on Thursday, because the Toppers simply had none of it for the first half.

While 4,588 fans seemingly napped in their Diddle Arena seats during the first 20 minutes, WKU was outscored 32-24, out-rebounded 21-14 and “a step behind everything,” according to Harper.

But Gordon’s energy on the boards and on defense (no Owls starting guard scored more than seven points) rubbed off on both the crowd and his teammates.

Fant, Gordon, senior guard Kahlil McDonald and junior center Teeng Akol all made big plays down the stretch to clinch a crucial Sun Belt Conference win.

Now the Toppers have a two-day turnaround before playing South Alabama on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

The Jaguars will be a tough matchup for WKU, which handed South Alabama a 75-66 defeat on Feb. 4.

Who knows what Gordon will dream about on Friday night before that one.

But if his REM cycles do wander over to thoughts on the Jaguars, hopefully for Topper fans those dreams will play out in real life like they did on Thursday.