WKU leaves Charleston winless after close loss to VCU

Cole Claybourn

WKU was looking for a jolt in its lineup Sunday after losing two straight games at the Charleston Classic.

Insert freshman guard T.J. Price, who made his Topper debut — along with freshman forward George Fant — against VCU after both players sat out the first four games of the season due to an NCAA violation.

But Price’s team-high 17 points weren’t enough to propel WKU (1-4) past VCU in the seventh place game as the Toppers fell 69-64 despite leading by as many as 12 with eight minutes left in the game.

“VCU picked up their aggression level. It really hurt us on the glass at the end,” Head Coach Ken McDonald told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “That last, maybe six minutes — that’s when the game was decided. It shifted with the aggression level.

“We didn’t block out enough and that got us rattled a bit and we didn’t handle it right.”

WKU opened the second half on a 13-0 run after trailing by four at halftime.

VCU finally stopped the bleeding with two free throws from Bradford Burgess with 13 minutes left.

The Toppers eventually stretched their lead to 12 after freshman forward Nigel Snipes hit a three-pointer with eight minutes left.

But that’s when the wheels began to fall off for WKU.

Darius Theus hit a three-pointer and Rob Brandenberg stole a pass from freshman guard Kevin Kaspar and finished with a layup to bring VCU within seven — 56-49.

VCU eventually capped off a 10-0 run to get back within two.

“We got a little too down on ourselves and we’re picking each other up,” Price said. “We were putting each other in a lot of bad situations instead of being there and being in the right spots and executing like Coach Mac wanted us to do.

“They started coming back and putting pressure on us and there wasn’t enough execution.”

Down by four with less than four minutes to play, VCU was fouled and made the basket. The free throw was off the mark but the Rams got the rebound and eventually scored to tie the game a 60-60 when junior center Teeng Akol was called for goaltending.

Freshman guard Kevin Kaspar, who finished with 13 points, hit a three-pointer to give WKU a 63-60 lead as the game neared its final two minutes. But Brandenberg answered with a three-pointer on the other end to tie it.

Akol hit one free throw with a 1:30 left to play to give WKU the lead again, but Burgess hit two free throws on the other to give VCU its first lead since the start of the second half.

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon then tured the ball over near midcourt, and VCU’s Troy Daniels was fouled by Price on the play. Daniels hit two free throws to give VCU a 67-64 lead.

McDonald called a timeout to set up a play with less than 10 seconds left. Kaspar dribbled under the basket and found freshman forward Nigel Snipes open on the wing.

Snipes’ shot went off the mark and VCU grabbed the rebound. VCU hit two free throws with three seconds left to ice the game.

McDonald said the Toppers didn’t execute the play out of the timeout.

“We didn’t get to our right spots,” he said. “Kevin Kaspar executed, turned the corner and didn’t have one to throw to. Those are things that guys learn on the job and they’re going to get better and better.”

The Rams ended the game — which featured nine ties and five lead changes — on a 25-8 run and scored the game’s final six points to send WKU home with its third straight loss.

Price finished 4 of 6 from three-point range. Kaspar added four steals and three assists to point total, but also had five turnovers.

Price said he was just happy to be back in the lineup. 

“It felt real great,” he said. “Sitting at home, watching the team going down, that was a bad feeling. It just felt great being on the court and being with the team back again.”

Fant finished with four points — all free throws — and three rebounds in 13 minutes of play in his debut.

WKU had 20 turnovers as a team and were out-rebounded 35-33.

VCU had four players in double figures, led by Brandenberg’s 18 points.

While WKU got two players back in the lineup, junior guard Caden Dickerson sat out with a shoulder injury and wore a sling on his left shoulder. That ended Dickerson’s streak of seeing action in each of the first 70 games of his career.

Sophomore forward Kene Anyigbo left the game in the second half with what was labeled a stomach issue.

WKU will face VCU again at 7 p.m. Wednesday, this time at Diddle Arena.

That will give WKU a few days to prepare and work on what caused them to lose to the same team on Sunday. Price said the biggest thing is working on beating VCU’s press.

“That’s what really got to us,” he said. “They pressed us hard. When we go back to practice we’re going to work on that really hard and make sure we can get that down pat.”

McDonald said he’s ready to face VCU again, if nothing more than for some revenge.

“It’s tough to give away one like this, it really is,” he said. “We’re playing hard and we’re getting better each time out. We had new guys in the mix tonight. It’s tough to give this one away.

“They kind of took this one from us.”