WKU blows 18-point lead, staves off Bowling Green State

Freshman guard Kevin Kaspar shoots the ball during the basketball game against Bowling Green State. WKU won the game 60-53.

Cole Claybourn

Head Coach Ken McDonald said his team “grew up” during Sunday’s game against visiting Bowling Green State.

The young Toppers (3-6) escaped with a 60-53 win over the Falcons (4-3) after blowing an 18-point second half lead — their largest of the season.

Despite making just four shots in the second half (4-of-22), WKU made 19 free throws to propel itself to a win.

“I think when you’re in those types of games, being a home team is sometimes a disadvantage because all of a sudden you had a big lead and it’s tied with a couple minutes to go and you feel all kinds of pressure,” McDonald said. “You’re looking at the guys and you want to make sure they’re responding and slowing down and maturing and understanding we still have this basketball game.”

The Toppers set the tempo early, opening up a 14-2 run to take an 18-6 lead midway through the first half.

It wasn’t until BGSU’s Jordon Crawford hit a jump shot to stop the bleeding that ended WKU’s 14-0 run.

But the Falcons then scored 10 unanswered, trimming the lead to 18-16 with just under eight minutes left. 

But WKU ended the half on a 13-5 run and took a 33-21 lead into halftime despite 13 first half turnovers.

The Toppers shot 60.9 percent from from the field in the first half, but the second half was a much different story.

But first, WKU started out the second half strong with a quick 5-0 run that forced a Bowling Green State timeout.

Freshman forward Vinny Zollo found sophomore forward Kene Anyigbo under the basket to give WKU an 18-point lead, 40-22, with 16:32 left — WKU’s largest lead of the season.

But the Falcons slowly began chipping away at WKU’s lead.

They cut it to seven with 10:24 left to play after a layup by Luke Kraus. WKU stretched the lead back to 10 after three free throws from freshman guard T.J. Price, but BGSU’s Scott Thomas began to take over.

In just more than five minutes of play, Thomas scored 12 points and tied the game at 53-53 with a three-pointer with 2:18 to play to cap off a 20-9 BGSU run.

“He’s a good player,” McDonald said of Thomas. “I think some of it was off the turnovers. They went small. We struggled to guard their small lineup a little bit. But he’s a good player.

“He’s going to be an all-conference player for them. He’s consistent. He makes tough shots. He steps up and wants the ball. It’s tough to contain him.”

But that was the last points BGSU scored the rest of the game, while WKU scored seven points — all off free throws — to leave with its third win of the season.

WKU shot just 18.2 percent from the field in the second half but made 19 second half free throws.

WKU finished with 21 turnovers, prompting McDonald said put Price in at point guard. He said he wasn’t pleased with how his every day point guards — freshman guard Kevin Kaspar and junior guard Jamal Crook — had been playing. Both combined for just eight points and six turnovers.

“I end up playing T.J. (Price) at the point because our two point guards are not dictating how the game is run,” he said. “That’s got to get better. I want Jamal (Crook) to step up, I want Kevin (Kaspar) to step up and understand how to run the team. Tonight we had to put T.J. in that position and he answered the bell. He answered the bell and finished the game out.” 

Freshman forward George Fant led WKU in scoring with 13 points and added seven rebounds, while junior center Teeng Akol — who made his second straight start — added eight rebounds and freshman guard Derrick Gordon added six.

“I felt like I played well. Kept trying,” Akol said. “The defense, helped the team, trying to do the little things.”

Thomas finished with 16 points to lead BGSU — 14 in the second half — while A’uston Calhoun finished with 11.

The Toppers head to Southern Illinois on Wednesday for a 7:05 p.m. battle with the Salukis.

Junior guard Kahlil McDonald said it’s important WKU keeps its winning ways.

“I think we need to get these wins going now, so once we get the confidence, we’ll have the confidence to keep going, build on it,” he said.