Following Belmont's season opening win over Marquette, I had a good friend send me a text which read something to the effect of "WKU is going to lose to Belmont. Bad." I, in turn, responded that I shared the sentiment and did not feel good about the Hilltoppers chances against the Bruins.
Then, a couple of things happened. First, WKU impressed in their own season opening game (albeit against an NAIA opponent) and second, I read Zach Greenwell on twitter explaining that the Bruins may be very road weary with all the travel they had to do from Marquette to Arizona State back to Nashville, and in such a short amount of time. So, in the end, I was prepared for a Belmont win, but I also was prepared for a good showing from the Tops.
And that's exactly what happened.
Both teams jumped out to fast starts, and it was WKU who benefited better from the quick start, jumping out to an eight point lead at 35-27 with 6:04 to play in the first half. But, a 25-8 Bruin run - with 18 of those points coming from the lethal three-point shooting of Belmont - helped the Bruins cruise to a halftime lead of 52-43.
WKU clawed their way back to open the back half of hoops, scoring the first five points with two quick buckets, but an 8-0 run by the home squad put Belmont on top 63-50, but that's when the corner turned and the Tops went on a run of their own.
In the middle stages of the second half, Belmont couldn't hit anything. And I mean anything. There was a sequence right under the rim in which the Bruins had three different looks, and each time the ball rolled off and out of the rim before WKU finally was able to take control.
In all, it was a 15-4 Hilltopper run that helped WKU tie the game at 74-74 with 4:26 to play, but that was as close as the Tops would get, and even though there was a plethora of scoring to get to the final 90-85 score, WKU was careless with the basketball and had three main figures - Nigel Snipes, Justin Johnson and Ben Lawson - foul out, and the Bruins found their scoring touch once again in order to seal the deal.
WKU's Chris Harrison-Docks led all scorers with 19 points, going 6-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, while it was Evan Bradds who helped pace Belmont with 16 points, but got help from Amaze Egekeze with 15 and a 13 point performance from Craig Bradshaw.
Both teams shot an even 48% from the floor, and the Tops actually shot better from three-point range (42%-38%) than the Bruins did, but in the end (at least, in the final box score) it came down to the charity stripe - WKU attempted as many free throws as Belmont made (21) - as WKU committed 26 total fouls to Belmont's 16.
Having not been at Diddle last Saturday, I had a few thoughts on tonight, and the team as a whole, in my first time being able to place eyes on them:
- Coach Harper said in his pregame interview with Randy Lee before the game that having guys like Harrison-Docks and Snipes on the bench, and not in the starting lineup, is by design. He wants to be able to plug guys in who have offensive fire power as opposed to starting the game with everything he has to offer. Smart.
- And, speaking of CHD, I didn't realize how much I had missed his smooth shooting stroke.
- Justin Johnson is a joy to watch, and he's only a sophomore. He does things George Fant never did - in particular, he goes to the basket immediately after grabbing a rebound (and, what do ya know, he got fouled in the process!).
- I had heard from others but I can confirm - Fredrick Edmond is the real deal. He was the second leading scorer for WKU tonight with 16, and he is incredibly quick (which I actually hadn't heard anyone talk about, so that was a nice surprise to discover for myself) and the floor looks more comfortable when he's out there.
- Is it just me (it probably is), or did Aaron Cosby have an oddly quiet night? Not in terms of production - he finished with 13 points (and rounds out the Tops' double-digit scorers) and even grabbed six rebounds - but I just didn't really notice him on the floor. Almost like a ghost. Is that his new nickname? Aaron "Ghost" Cosby?