Gordon’s double-double propels WKU to second straight win

Cole Claybourn

WKU broke a 23-year curse Wednesday thanks to a big night from one of its newest faces.

The Toppers (4-6) defeated Southern Illinois (1-4) in Carbondale, Ill., for the first time since 1988 behind a double-double — 14 points and 13 rebounds — from freshman guard Derrick Gordon.

It was the first double-double recorded by a Topper player this season.

“I’ll do whatever it takes for us to start winning games,” Gordon said to WKU’s Big Red Radio following the game. “That’s rebounding, playing defense, whatever.

“I mean, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates though. We struggled a little bit in the first half, but in the second half we just turned it up and started playing together.”

The win was WKU’s first road win of the season and the Toppers’ second in a row — the first time all season they’ve won back-to-back games. 

WKU trailed 10-4 early on, but went on a 10-0 run to take a 14-10 lead and never trailed the rest of the half.

The Toppers shot 42 percent in the first half and got 14 points from their bench compared to just five from SIU. 

But WKU didn’t open the second half quite like they ended the first half.

The Salukis went on a quick 8-0 run during a WKU scoring drought that spanned over four minutes to begin the second half.

But Gordon hit a three-pointer — three of his 10 second half points — to break the dry spell.

“Coaches just want me to be more aggressive, and the past couple games I haven’t been real aggressive,” Gordon said. “I really showed it tonight — attacking the glass, getting my teammates involved. When I was doing that, it opened up a lot from my teammates.”

The Toppers then went on a 15-5 run that stretched over eight minutes to take a 48-40 lead.

The led by as many as 11 and never trailed the rest of the way.

The Toppers finished shooting 43 percent from the field and held SIU to 35.2 percent, while also forcing 19 turnovers, which WKU turned into 20 points.

“Our defense lead to some easy baskets on the offensive end. It got our break going a little bit,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “We have a tendency early in games to take some bad shots and that lead to some easy points for Southern Illinois in the first half.

“We got it under control, we didn’t turn it over in the second half. To finish a game in the second half on the road with some poise was really important for our program.”

WKU got solid production from junior point guard Jamal Crook as well. Crook scored 12 points and had four assists in 25 minutes of play.

But more importantly Crook, who was averaging just more than two turnovers a game and saw his playing time diminish in favor of freshman guard Kevin Kaspar, didn’t turn the ball over once.

“I’ve been struggling with (turnovers) for some time now,” Crook said. “But I’m just trying to get better each day, each game, and each practice and take care of that basketball.”

WKU now turns its focus to IUPUI on Saturday — another road game. Freshman forward George Fant will get a chance to face off with his Warren Central High School teammate Jordan Shanklin, now a freshman point guard at IUPUI.

“Every road game’s important,” McDonald said. “Every one’s tough. This will have different challenges and we’ll have to be able to answer the call and continue to improve. That’s the biggest thing we’re going to talk about the next couple days.”