BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — In bookending a 70-64 win over Sun Belt Conference West Division preseason favorite North Texas Saturday night at E.A. Diddle Arena, WKU hit eight first-half three-pointers and went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final 1:15 to win its 12th-straight home game and move to 4-0 in conference play.
The 4-0 start to league play is WKU’s best since 2005-06, and the Hilltoppers are now 10-5 overall on the season. North Texas drops to 5-8 overall and 0-2 in the conference. With the win, WKU picked up its 10th win on December 29, and last season’s 10th victory did not come until February 23. In addition, both WKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have 10 wins before January 1 for the first time in school history.
T.J. Price led WKU with 16 points and went a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc, and George Fant added 14 points and seven rebounds. Teeng Akol had 13 points and six boards, and Brandon Harris had nine points, nine rebounds and six assists in a game high 39 minutes. Harris did not turn the ball over Saturday night, and he now has 15 assists and just one turnover in conference games this season. North Texas was led by Jordan Williams’ 18 points and Tony Mitchell’s 10 rebounds.
Akol also blocked five shots, and he now moves into sole possession of eighth place on WKU’s career blocked shots list at 82.
WKU buried seven first-half three-pointers, helping open up a 37-26 lead at the break. Price led all scorers with 11 first-half points, knocking down all three of his three-point tries, and Kevin Kaspar added seven points. Harris played all 20 first-half minutes and contributed five points, five assists and four rebounds.
The Hilltoppers had scoring runs of 6-0, 8-1 to help distance themselves from the Mean Green. WKU shot 43.3 percent from the floor during the opening 20 minutes (13-for-30), and North Texas shot 40.7 percent as a team (11-for-27).
North Texas did not go down without a fight, as it scored 18 of 25 points in the game over 6:16 to start the second half and erase an 11-point WKU lead and tie the game at 46.
Neither team led by more than five points for the next 11 minutes, as the two rivals traded baskets and came up with one clutch shot after another.
WKU freshman Percy Blade went to the free throw line twice with WKU holding a 62-60 lead with 1:15 remaining in the game, and the rookie calmly made four-straight free throws to give WKU a six-point lead at 66-60.
Mitchell hit a three-pointer on the North Texas end to cut the lead in half, but Blade again made two foul shots to put WKU back on top by five. The Mean Green split a pair of free throws, and Price iced the game with two more from the charity stripe to seal the victory.
WKU shot 40.4 percent from the floor in the game (21-for-52), and North Texas finished at 42.1 percent (24-for-57). WKU went 19-for-26 from the free throw line (.731).
Harris has now played all but six minutes in the last five Hilltopper games.
WKU turned a three-rebound disadvantage in the first half into a four-rebound advantage in the game. WKU is now 18-3 under head coach Ray Harper when outrebounding its opponent in a game.
WKU hits the road next week for two games in Arkansas, beginning Thursday at 7:30 PM at UALR. Thursday’s game will be televised nationally on ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court, regionally on WKYU-PBS and in Louisville on WBNA. It is also available on the radio on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network with Randy Lee and Hal Schmitt on the call.
After playing the Trojans, WKU heads to Arkansas State on Saturday, January 5. WKU is back at home on Saturday, January 12 against Florida Atlantic.
Tickets for the 2012-13 WKU basketball season are on sale now and can be purchased online at WKUSports.com or by calling the WKU Ticket Office at 1-800-5-BIG RED or 745-5222 locally.
(Source: WKU Athletics, Dec 29, 2012)