In what was maybe the best all-mid major basketball game you didn't watch on Saturday, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were able to stay (mostly) out of foul trouble - which certainly didn't help in Wednesday's loss to Belmont - and take control when control was needed, but the Stony Brook Seawolves didn't go away quietly, but couldn't hit shots in the clutch late as the Tops survived and moved to 2-1 with a 67-66 victory inside a half full, but very ruckus, Diddle Arena.
Both teams started off slow, as the Tops and Wolves combined to miss the first six shots of the game before Anton Waters finally put the ball through the net nearly two minutes in, but after points were finally scored, the two squads traded buckets until Stony Brook jumped out to a 17-13 lead near the middle of the half.
Aaron Cosby hit a three to bring the Tops within 17-16, and then Justin Johnson entered, who hit eight shots in a row for the Tops, giving WKU a 24-21 lead. Stony Brook was able to stop Johnson's roll and cut the deficit to three, but ultimately the Tops took a five point lead into the locker room with a 38-33 lead.
Out of the gates in the second half, however, the Seawolves opened with a 9-2 run, taking a two point lead at 42-40, but the Tops responded to that with a 6-0 run of their own. I could go on and on, but that's essentially how the second half went from that point on; Stony Brook would hit a couple buckets in a row, the Tops would answer with three or four buckets in a row.
The largest lead the Hilltoppers held in the second half was eight, which happened twice. WKU led 57-49 just past the halfway point in the half, and then again at 65-57, but then that's when things got interesting. The Tops scored just two points in the final 4:54 of the game, and ended the game with a scoring drought of 2:54, allowing the Wolves to nearly eliminate the eight point lead, thanks to seven points by Carson Puriefoy (the final seven points SB scored), but the Seawolves couldn't hit their final six attempted shots (either from the floor or from the free throw line), and the Hilltoppers prevailed.
Justin Johnson was the man of the afternoon for the Tops, notching yet another double-double in leading the Tops in points (a career high 22) and rebounds (13), but he was nearly quietly overshadowed by Nigel Snipes, who finished with 20 points and hit those key three pointers we used to see from T.J. Price.
For Stony Brook, three guys notched double figures - Rayshaun McGrew led the way with 18, followed by 17 from Puriefoy and 11 from Jameel Warney, who the Tops were able to keep in check offensively, but was a monster on the glass, leading all players with 16 rebounds.
This was a good win for the Tops, especially since they came so close to knocking off Belmont, this was the obvious next-step game - getting over the hump and winning a close game against a quality opponent (Stony Brook was picked to win the American East in the conference's preseason poll).
- The Tops did a much better job of staying out of foul trouble. Ben Lawson had four fouls when it was all said and done, but picked up that fourth one in the closing minute. He did get a really bad moving-pick call (the moving pick was bad, not the call), so still a little work to do there, but overall, much better from Wednesday.
- I love living in a world where Nigel Snipes is not only a key contributor, but can contribute key threes. I think I enjoy seeing him drain shots from distance than Chris Harrison-Docks.
- It was a day to forget for Fredrick Edmond, who finished with four points, one rebound and one assist. Granted, he did have a very purdy coast-to-coast lay up in the second half. But overall, just not good. He didn't hit shots, he turned the ball over...there'll be plenty of games we are praising him for great things. Today just wasn't one of them.
- I actually didn't even realize this until I began writing this article, but outside of the first 10 or so minutes, Anton Waters was no where to be found. It seemed like he was going to be a key figure throughout, scoring a couple of early buckets, but that was almost, quite literally, it.
- I know I already said it above, but I'll say it again right here - this was a big win for the Tops. Following the Belmont game, Ray Harper said he wouldn't be the least bit shocked if Stony Brook heard their name called on Selection Sunday, and to win in that way is huge. Hopefully it's a big confidence boost for a team that has played surprisingly well over over its first three games.