Men’s Basketball Notes: Crook steps up in the clutch

Junior guard Jamal Crook is blocked by UALR players Ben Dillard, Reggie Fondren and Courtney Jackson while trying to make a shot in the last minutes of the game.

Cole Claybourn

Interim Head Coach Ray Harper admitted he’s a little harder on point guards at times.

The reason for that? They’re “critical” to whether a team wins or loses, Harper said.

Whatever he has said to junior guard Jamal Crook apparently paid off on Saturday as the Louisville native helped fuel a 21-4 game-winning run with less than five minutes left in the second half in a 65-53 win over Arkansas-Little Rock.

“I thought he really grew up in the second half, especially in those last seven minutes,” he said. “He let every play develop, he read it, made the right decision. Jamal’s a guy that makes threes. I don’t think that’s necessarily the best part of his game, but he’s worked on that.

“Anytime you gotta kid that’s worked on it as hard as he has, you gotta allow him to shoot it during the course of the game.”

Crook scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists in the second half.

In the first half, Crook hit his second career three-pointer. He finished the game with 13 points — five more than his season average.

He played 18 minutes in the second half after freshman guard Kevin Kaspar was forced to sit after sustaining a knee sprain right at halftime.

WKU turned the ball over just three times in the second half with one of them coming from Crook. Needless to say, Harper was very pleased with his point guard’s performance.

“I thought he made all the right decisions,” Harper said. “I think good basketball teams are like good football teams — if you have a terrific quarterback you got a great chance to win. I’m all about point guards and the decisions they make with the basketball.”

But even after his performance, Crook deferred the game ball to Harper.

“(Harper) was real excited about that,” Crook said.

WKU out-toughs UALR

Harper’s focal point since taking over as head coach on Jan. 6 has been toughness — no one should be tougher than his team.

He’s mentioned it before and after all four games since he took over, and on Saturday, WKU finally ended up the tougher team.

He said he figured UALR Head Coach Scott Shields would bring his team into Diddle Arena with the same mindset and not overlook WKU, despite the fact that they beat both Denver and North Texas on the road — something the Toppers weren’t able to do.

“I knew what we were going to get today,” Harper said. “I would have rather they would’ve went and won Thursday because maybe they would’ve thought, ‘Oh, Western…their 1-5, we’re going to roll in there and beat them.’ But we took their best shot and they couldn’t knock us out. They had us in the corner a couple of times, but we hung in there and that’s a good sign.”

Crowd size remains high

With students starting to return to campus and optimism still high with a new coach, the second-largest crowd of the season was on hand for Saturday’s win.

WKU officially announced the total at 4,254, and Harper and some of the players said the crowd was a crucial factor in helping WKU win.

“Coming from few people in the crowds first couple of games to every night it’s almost packed out,” Fant said. “You just have the whole arena screaming for you. It definitely helped on our run we took toward the end — it gave us more energy.”