WKU ‘focuses,’ fends off Southeastern Louisiana for second win of season

Jamal Crook, center right and Derrick Gordon, center left horse around among their teammates Saturday Nov. 26, 2011 vs Southeastern Louisiana in E.A. Diddle arena. WKU broke a 4 game losing streak winning 72-67.

Cole Claybourn

Freshman forward George Fant talked after Wednesday’s loss to VCU about how the team didn’t have focus, which lead to a 23-point home loss.

The young Toppers had just enough focus Saturday night to hold off Southeastern Louisiana 72-67 at home for their second win of the season.

“We actually focused,” Fant said. “The first practice we had the other day was intense. We went out there and did rebound drills — we also had a little team get together talking about how we need to get better and focus. So I think that was the biggest step we took up.”

WKU (2-5) came into Saturday night’s game against Southeastern Louisiana having lost four straight.

Thanks in part to a career-high 17 points from junior center Teeng Akol, the Toppers’ fortunes were turned around.

WKU trailed by as many as five early in the first half, but went into halftime up 10 thanks to an 11-0 run and 15 first half points from Akol, who hit a three-pointer late in the half.

The Toppers held Southeastern Louisiana scoreless for the final 3:09 of the half.

WKU came out in the second half looking more energized, and it showed on the scoreboard. The Toppers stretched their lead to 16 early in the second after two free throws from freshman guard Kevin Kaspar.

The Toppers held a double-digit lead until just under 11 minutes when the Lions’ Jeremy Campbell scored to cut the lead to nine, 54-45.

The Lions then cut the lead to six with 7:30 left to play.

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon then scored four of his 12 points to give WKU a 10-point lead again with 4:11 left to play.

But Southeastern Louisiana had one more run left in them.

Down eight with 52 seconds left, Southeastern Louisiana scored five points in the final minute and trailed by as few as four points with 31 seconds left.

The focus that the Toppers had played with all game seemed to have almost escaped them toward then.

Fant said it wasn’t Southeastern Louisiana playing well, just WKU not focusing and closing out the game.

Freshman forward Nigel Snipes expressed a similar notion.

“It was us. We started to lose focus,” he said. “When we got back to the huddle, we told each other we need to focus, just be ready to win.”

After the late-game scare, a couple of missed shots by Southeastern Louisiana and a free throw by freshman forward George Fant sealed the game for WKU.

Despite the close ending, Snipes said the win was WKU’s most complete game of the season so far.

“In other games we performed well in the first half, but then in the second half, we lost focus,” he said. “I felt like most of this game today, we focused in the first half and most of the second half.”

Head Coach Ken McDonald wasn’t ready to go that far yet, even though WKU pulled of the win playing without three players.

Junior guard Caden Dickerson remained sidelined with an injured left shoulder, while freshman guard T.J. Price sat out with a deep thigh bruise. Sophomore forward Kene Anyigbo was out after he suffered from shortness of breath in WKU’s first game against VCU. 

McDonald said the team isn’t real certain what’s wrong with Anyigbo, but they ran some tests on his heart and aren’t concerned it’s anything to do with that.

“I know we finished it out,” McDonald said. “I know some guys were tired down the stretch…We’re facing some adversity. It’s not always easy and we’re learning lessons on the job.

“We’ve still got guys out there at times to end the game — I think four freshmen — and they’re learning how to finish a game. So tonight they learned how to finish a game out.”

That was with a team that admittedly didn’t play focused the whole game.

Fant said “there’s no telling” how good the Toppers can be if they play focused for 40 minutes.

“If you’d see these practices, how good each and every player is, you’ll understand,” he said.

Fant finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while Kaspar finished with 10 points — six of which came from behind the three-point line.

WKU shot 42.3 percent from the field but turned the ball over 21 times. The Toppers also made 24 of their last 28 free throws.

Southeastern Louisiana had three players in double figures and shot 44.1 percent with 18 turnovers.

McDonald said WKU now has some confidence heading into next Thursday’s game against Murray State afte Saturday’s win, mainly because winning hasn’t happened much yet this season.

“You have to win. You have to beat quality teams,” he said. “A win does a lot for you with your confidence. We still have a lot to learn even in a win, but I’d much rather take the close win than a close loss.”