We saw two different Hilltopper teams this afternoon in Diddle Arena. In the opening 18 or so minutes, we saw a team that could, seemingly, do nothing right. They shot poorly, they turned the ball over a lot, and they shot poorly.
BUT, luckily, we saw a second Hilltopper team, that knew what it was doing. It was getting rebounds (something WKU had an advantage in over Indiana State all night long), creating second and third opportunities and playing, frankly, just awesome, awesome basketball.
While I think it certainly is fair to credit the slow start to the cobwebs that remained after not playing competitive basketball for nearly a week (and, the last time you did play competitive basketball, it was a 95-64 loss), the Tops brushed them off eventually and in a big way. I, personally, will credit the official start of the "good Hilltoppers" in the closing seconds of the first half, when the Tops had to throw up a shot in desperation because the shot clock was running down, then got their own offensive rebound and Chris Harrison-Docks nailed a three to give WKU a 37-30 halftime lead.
From there, it was all WKU in the second half, as the Tops took a 20-5 run and helped build a 20-point towards the halfway point of the back 20 minutes. But, credit Indiana State for not giving up and bringing the game back to a respectable 12-point differential, but the Tops never broke, and rolled to the 13 point win to improve to above .500 once again.
Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to "recap," if that makes a lot of sense. My good friends always joke that I'm a very "numbers tell the story" kind of guy, but this is one of those games where that holds 100% true. The game went exactly how the numbers say they went: WKU outshot Larry Bird U 54.5%-46.4% in the second half (where the game was really decided), 43%-35% from three for the game, and the Tops held a 39-21 edge on the glass. Not what you might call a "dominating" performance, but it was enough for a comfortable win.
Some thoughts and notes from the victory:
- Coming in, I was worried about the possibility of ISU winning. Nothing against either team, but the Tops were reeling from the bad loss in Cincinnati with a long layover, while the Sycamores were coming off a pair of tough-fought losses against Butler and Valpo, two cream of the crop mid-major programs. Glad to have been wrong here.
- We all know about the home dominance of teams like Belmont and Louisiana Tech and even a squad like Old Dominion, but here's a fun stat - WKU has won 23 of the last 27 contests held in Diddle Arena.
- Another game, another dominating performance for Justin Johnson. JJ netted 24 points, a new career high, and also recorded another double-double with a 10 rebound game. He's exactly what the doctor ordered in the absence of George Fant, and his play continues to improve. OH and he's here for two and a half more years. Yay.
- Ray Harper went with a new-look lineup today, putting Nigel Snipes back in there (who had come off the bench a lot in the early parts of the year), and also gave Marlon Hunter his first ever collegiate start and something clicked when he was out there. Hunter came in averaging 3.9 points a game, but was incredibly impressive today, scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds. I'm not a sports phycologist, I don't even play one on TV, but I'll bet good money Marlon in the starting lineup is doing awesome things for his psyche.
- Ben Lawson had his most productive statistical day since the season opener, with seven points and a couple of boards. Harper has made it no secret he needs more out of the combination of Lawson and Alex Rostov, and hopefully Lawson begins to answer the bell.
- I tweeted this out but I'll repeat it here - I know he hasn't been eye-poppingly incredible to begin the year, but I really like the possibility of Anton Waters being a key player on the floor for the Tops. I don't necessarily have evidence to back this up, he just seems like he's close to figuring it out. Hopefully he does by the time conference play rolls around and surprises us all.