For the second straight game, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers over came a less-than-stellar first half performance with a strong second half performance to pull away from a lesser opponent, this time in the form of the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, to mark the year's first win streak for the Tops in a 79-70 victory in Ray Harper's squad's final tune up before the in-state showdown with Louisville on Saturday.
Tonight's first half was very reminiscent of Sunday's first half against Indiana State - a slow start (only 18 total points through the first six and a half minutes), and then seemingly out of nowhere the offense started to come around. It was Alabama A&M to make the first run, scoring 10 consecutive points to jump out to a 16-9 lead, but the Tops came back with a 7-0 run of their own, tying the game at 16-16 with 9:19 to play in the half.
That basically sums up the first half - the Bulldogs would go on a run, but the Tops would do whatever it took to make sure it never got out of hand, and either take a lead, tie, or come within a possession. When the first half was all said and done, there was a bit of a statistical oddity - WKU ended first half hitting just one of their last seven shots from the floor, but held a 6-2 scoring advantage, despite trailing 37-35 after 20 minutes.
While the overall shooting percentages weren't pretty in the first half (WKU shot 37% from the floor, while the Dogs shot just 36%), the Tops were money from distance, shooting 46%, with Nigel Snipes and Chris Harrison-Docks combining to go 4-6 in the first 20.
Turnovers were killers for WKU in the first half - the Tops gave the ball away 15 times, leading to 14 points for Alabama A&M. And, while the Bulldogs turned the ball over 14 times, WKU converted for just seven points.
A&M started the second half on fire, scoring 10 of the first 14 points of the back 20 minutes (and jumping out to a 47-39 lead), but just as the story went in the first half, the Tops rolled back with a 15-2 run to take a 54-48 lead that they would never relinquish. WKU shot much, much better from the floor in the second half (47.8%) while still holding the Dogs to a shooting percentage under 40.0.
The way WKU has started games over this brief homestand is very worrisome (especially with the Cardinals on the horizon Saturday), but the way they finished tonight and Sunday against Indiana State are positive signs.
- Here's a fun fact Randy Lee dropped on the broadcast tonight - WKU leads Conference USA at the charity stripe. Against Larry Bird U, the Tops outshot the Sycamores 27-9. Tonight? 29-9. Not too bad.
- Ben Lawson made an appearance in the starting lineup tonight, and was a menace defensively. He led all players with 12 rebounds and had a least two blocks, along with four points (he also missed a pair of dunks, which I didn't think he could physically do).
- CHD, Snipes, Justin Johnson and Chris McNeal were your Tops scorers tonight (See what I did there?) - CHD netted 18, Snipes had 17, Johnson finished with 15 and McNeal had an early-career high of 12 (just the second time he's netted double-figures in points). Snipes finished the evening perfect from downtown (3-3), but CHD didn't make a three after halftime (finishing 2-7. Ouch).
- Speaking of Johnson, my gosh is he fun to watch night in and night out. I feel like a broken record, but he seriously continues to impress each time he plays.
- Will the real Fredrick Edmond please stand up. He had himself a fine Florida trip over Thanksgiving (outputs of 14 points, 16 points and 14 points). But, over his last four games, he has combined for 23 points, including just three tonight. He's talented, no doubt about it. And the Tops are going to need him soon (cough cough like on Saturday cough cough). Hopefully he can break out of his funk soon.
- WKU outrebounded Alabama A&M 42-37.
- The attendance looked absolutely putrid from the Fox College Sports simulcast, but it was announced at just over 3100 folks. Regardless, attendance is terrible. Fix it, Tops fans. (Also, if you blame Ray Harper for the attendance, you are wrong. Just get ready for the wrath that will ensue.)