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November 23, 2011Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
Coming into their contest with the VCU Rams, the WKU Hilltoppers (1-5) had been plagued all season with second half woes that have inevitably cost them their past two games. Things looked like they were turning in the right direction as WKU were able to get junior Teeng Akol back two games ago and freshmen George Fant and T.J. Price back in their last game from suspensions. Things appeared to be continually rolling in the second half of Wednesday night's matchup with VCU, but struggles plagued the Tops and saw their opponent leave E.A. Diddle Arena with a 68-45 loss.
"The energy stayed for VCU, and we lost some energy and some confidence," said head coach Ken McDonald. "We struggled to score, but we also did not execute. We have to be more intense and sustain a run by another team when that kind of stuff goes on. Turnovers - from our guard play - cannot be up in the 13 to 15 range for your guards. We have to defend better. Their ball-screen offense - we talked about it a lot - we did not execute how we were going to defend it. I don't know who you can point to and say that they played a very effective game for us, and that is a problem. We have to have a lot more guys on the positive side."
The only player who finished in double figures for the Tops was freshmen Derrick Gordon who finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Fant, freshmen Kevin Kaspar, and T.J. Price all added six points to the game. While Fant finished with six point, six rebounds, and two assists, he struggled mightily in the low post shooting just 2-7 on the evening.
The most shocking thing about the loss to the Rams was the fact that WKU never led in this game. The 23 point loss came just three days after the Tops and VCU played a very competitive game in the seventh-place game of the Charleston Classic, which saw the Rams escape with a 69-64 win.
"No, [VCU did not do anything different from Sunday to tonight] at all," said Gordon. We knew that they were going to pressure full-court, and we knew that they were going to have traps coming. It just comes back to a lack of focus. We had a couple of key turnovers that really were game-changers. It just really hurt us a lot."
Turnovers were a huge reason for WKU's struggles on the evening. The team as a whole committed 22 turnovers on the evening. VCU took advantage of the Tops' lack of control and converted it into 28 points. While the Rams did convert 15 turnovers on the game, WKU only turned those mistakes into 13 points.
The Tops saw all of their statistics plummet in the second half as the team could not get into any rhythm after cutting the lead to 43-41 with about 12 minutes remaining in the half. VCU closed the game on a 25-4 run to improve to 3-2 on the season. WKU shot just 35% from the field in the second half after shooting a very respectable 47.4% in the first half. The Tops also lost their touch from behind the arc in the second half shooting just 14.3% from three-point range in the second half compared to 57.1% in the first.
The job for Coach McDonald moving forward is to keep his young team focused and driven as WKU has a short turn around as they play Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday evening. The good thing for the team is there is a lot of basketball left for the team to grow-up and become the team that Topper fans expect them to be.
"I think in times like this, when you lose a game, you learn what you are made of," said McDonald. "I will remind our team tomorrow that it is important that you are able to respond to adversity. We are not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We are in a great spot. We are in a great program. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The timing of that day tomorrow is a good thing, because we are going to be thankful for being in this program. Tomorrow we are going to get to work right away bright and early. We are going to get a workout in and make sure we are focused. If we are not focused, we will come back and work out again. That is the way it has to be. We are going to make sure that we are locked in and ready every time we step on the floor."
Junior Caden Dickerson sat out his second straight game after injuring his shoulder against LSU in Charleston last weekend. McDonald said there is no definite time table for Dickerson's return, but he was very optimistic that he would return this season. Last season Dickerson was plagued with a similar injury in his opposite shoulder, but did not miss any games. With the loss of Dickerson and Stephon Drane's knee injury keeping him out of the line-up, WKU will need everyone to step up so the team can continue to improve and win games.