WKU takes control in second half, picks up road win over FIU

WKU takes control in second half, picks up road win over FIU

Cole Claybourn

What a difference a month makes.

After being blown out by 18 at home by Florida International on Dec. 31, WKU lead by six at halftime and never trailed in the second half en route to a 61-51 win over the same Panther team on Saturday in Miami.

WKU (7-15, 3-6 Sun Belt Conference) hit 5-of-7 three-pointers in the second half after shooting just 24 percent in the first half to hold off the Panthers.

“I was proud of our guys for bouncing back after a tough loss on Thursday,” Interim Head Coach Ray Harper told WKU’s Big Red Radio following the win. “This was a team that beat us by 16 or 18 three or four weeks ago. For us to respond the way we did, I’m awfully proud of those guys.”

WKU opened the second half with a 9-4 run before FIU (5-15, 2-6) eventually cut the lead to six, 36-30.

With eight minutes left, WKU had extended the lead 15, 47-32, for its largest lead of the season. But less than two minutes later, freshman forward George Fant picked up his fourth foul and FIU had cut the lead to 10.

It was “deja vu” from Thursday when WKU led by 15 and Florida Atlantic slowly started to creep back, freshman forward Vinny Zollo said.

“This team — a month ago, we lose by 15, we lose by 12 in a run like that,” he said. “When they throw that punch and coach calls a timeout, that’s the time you regroup and you gain that ground back and you really go forward.”

Foul trouble plagued WKU throughout the game.

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, sat for the final eight minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls and eventually fouled out with 2:03 left to play in the game.

Freshman forward Nigel Snipes also sat out for much of the first half after picking up three fouls.

FIU threatened once more by making it a 54-49 game with just over a minute left, but WKU was able to hang on down the stretch by hitting free throws.

“To regroup shows a lot about the maturity and the progress we’re coming through as a team,” Zollo said. “To come here and regroup and get back on the grind…it was a dirty win but we’ll take it.”

The Toppers silenced FIU guards Jeremy Allen and Phil Taylor, who combined for 31 second half points against WKU in the first meeting. They finished with a combined seven points for the game.

The Toppers responded after a sluggish start where they missed their first 15 shots of the game.

FIU played a 2-3 zone nearly the entire first half and WKU tried to shoot them out of it. However, the Toppers were just 5-of-19 from beyond the arc and just 24 percent from the field. FIU finished the half shooting 30 percent.

Junior guard Jamal Crook led the Toppers in scoring with 12 points, while Zollo and freshman guard T.J. Price added 11. Fant grabbed eight rebounds while Crook and Price both had seven.

WKU out-rebounded FIU 42-38.

The Panthers were paced by guard DeJuan Wright’s 24 points and 14 rebounds.

WKU held FIU to 30 fewer points than their last outing and held the Panthers to just one made three-point shot.

“I thought defensively we were terrific, especially in the first half,” Harper said. “We got a little tired at the end and gave up some drives to the basket. I thought we relaxed a little bit. But the kids did a great job and we’re just happy to get out of here with a victory.”