|Hilltoppers Handcuff Seahawks, 73-58|
BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky – Junior forward George Fant scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in a six-minute stretch late in the game to power Western Kentucky past UNCW, 73-58, Thursday night in an opening-game matchup of the exempt Roundball Classic at historic E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Hilltoppers of the Sun Belt Conference won their second in a row and improved to 2-1 with the win in the first meeting between the two teams. The Seahawks had a three-game winning streak halted and stand 3-3 on the young season.
Fant, a 6-6, 245-pound pile of muscle, had just two points on one field goal attempt in the opening 20 minutes, but came alive after the break to send the Hilltoppers past the Seahawks. Fant wound up connecting on 5-of-7 shots and added 6-of-10 at the charity stripe to go along with eight rebounds for his complete stat line.
Junior guard T.J. Price added 14 points and senior shooter Caden Dickerson finished with 12 for WKU, which shot 43.1 percent on the night.
Junior forward Cedrick Williams paced the Seahawks in scoring for the fourth time in six outings with 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Junior guard Addison Spruill was the only other Seahawk in double figures with 11 points.
“Western Kentucky came out with a lot of energy and their big guy had a good night,” said fourth-year UNCW Head Coach Buzz Peterson. “We came out flat and it looked like we were tired. We didn’t get the ball inside enough and missed too many easy layups.
“Defense got us back into the game, but we missed some layups and you’ve got to have those. We have to play again in less than 48 hours, so we’ve got to watch some game tape and get ready to go.”
WKU carved out a 32-24 lead at halftime and pushed the margin to 13 points with just over nine minutes remaining before UNCW rallied to throw a scare into the red towel-waving Hilltopper faithful.
Back-to-back buckets by Freddie Jackson sliced the deficit to 42-35 with 12:29 left to play, setting the stage for Fant’s heroics. WKU’s go-to guy answered Jackson with a basket inside to start a string of 12 consecutive points and he capped the spurt with a dunk at 5:30 to give the Hilltoppers a 54-44 advantage.
UNCW rallied again, however, scoring on a pair of free throws by Williams and a bank shot by Spruill, to get within 54-48 at 4:48.
But Dickerson sank a pair of key three-pointers on consecutive trips down the court to extend the lead back to 60-48 and the Hilltoppers went 10-of-12 at the charity stripe the rest of the way to seal the victory.
Williams got the Seahawks on the board just 40 seconds into the contest for their only lead of the game, but the Seahawks plummeted into a cold spell that lasted the first 12 minutes of the game. UNCW missed 14 of its first 18 field goal attempts and the chilly start dug a hole early for Peterson’s club.
After a driving bank shot by Spruill closed the deficit to 7-6 with 15:31 left, the Hilltoppers used a 14-2 spurt to take control. A jumper in front of the Seahawk bench by Dickerson gave WKU a 21-8 cushion with just under eight minutes left in the first period.
Redshirt sophomore Luke Hager’s triple from the left corner capped an 11-5 spurt for the Seahawks to chop the margin to 26-19 with 3:24 left in the half. But WKU responded with another 6-0 mini-run to get the lead back to 32-19 before Williams had a dunk and Tanner Milson sank a trifecta to make the score 32-24 at intermission.
GAME NOTES: It was UNCW’s first appearance at 60-year-old E.A. Diddle Arena…The Seahawks played their fifth road game in six outings…Peterson used the same starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game…UNCW had 13 turnovers to eight for WKU…The Seahawks went 3-of-15 (.200) behind the arc and 9-of-16 (.563) at the free throw line…All five UNCW starters had at least five rebounds…WKU’s largest lead of the game of 16 points came with 56 seconds left…The Seahawks were outrebounded, 39-37…Williams had three of UNCW’s eight blocks on the night.