When others have failed to step up their game in the spotlight, sophomore guard T.J. Price has been "Mr. Consistency" for Ray Harper's Hilltoppers. Time and time again this Hilltopper team has looked to their scoring leader for an offensive answer when no other answer was to be found. There is a reason why T.J. Price is the rock that Harper build this Hilltopper house on and he proved it once again on Sunday night.
Price provided the only offense the Toppers had at most points of Sunday night's game. He did everything he had to do to keep the Tops close with the Red Wolves. Price ended up with 24 points to go along with his many bruises.
In Western Kentucky's showdown with No. 2 Arkansas State, Jamal Crook and George Fant went a combined 1-for-9 from the field with a total of eight points. Fant who could have easily dominated the paint against the Red Wolves just could't find the touch to put it in the basket. After recieveing so much praise for his post-season play, Fant went O-for on Sunday night while shooting 5-for-8 from the line.
Jamal Crook and George Fant stayed in foul trouble most of the game. Crook only logged 13 minutes in the contest with Fant putting in 25 minutes. Yes, your starting point guard only played 13 minutes in a semi-final game with your starting forward scoring just five points.
What does the mean for the Tops?
Look out Golden Panthers.
Ray Harper said last night that George Fant would not have another game like that. After getting a free-pass in form of a two point victory over ASU, Fant wouldn't dare risk ending his season on another performance like that. Fant will have another chance to dominate the paint tonight against Florida International. He is stronger and more athletic than any of the Panthers interior guys. Look for a huge championship game for the Warren Central graduate.
While the numbers looked terrible for Crook on Sunday night, the senior point guard was never able to get in a rhythm. It seemed like as soon as he would get in the game, he came right back out due to foul trouble.
This should concern the Golden Panthers.
Crook will have relatively fresh legs coming into the championship game. Anytime you can win a game with your point guard sitting on the bench the majority of the time, there is no way you feel bad about your chances. And don't think Crook won't remember the lease on his playing career he got with a win last night. Jamal has had a great senior year, look for his Sun Belt finale to be a big one.
How are the Tops pulling these ridiculous wins out?
Chalk it up to experience.
Although our team is relatively young they have the experience of a group of seniors. This Hilltopper team had to do the exact same thing last year. They played in three Sun Belt tournament games that saw the Tops have three straight comeback wins while trailing by more than ten points late in games.
Don't forget about there ridiculous comeback performance against Mississippi Valley State that set an NCAA tournament record with President Obama looking on.
After chalking up these kinds of victories in a survive and advance scenario, why did we get so nervous the last two days when the Tops only had to make a one point comeback?
Ray Harper didn't get nervous nor did the players. They've been here before and they know what to do. This is why the Tops will win the Sun Belt Championship tonight.
The Panthers should be worried about how Fant and Crook will respond to bad performances tonight.
They should be worried that Alex Rostov is losing the baby fat and is putting all the pieces together at the right time.
They should be worried because Akamune and Drane scored ten big points off the bench last night.
They should be worried by the way Brandon Harris drains open 3-pointers.
They should be terrified by the fact that the Toppers have "Mr. Consistency" on the floor.
I don't see No. 52 giving the Golden Panthers much slack tonight.
Come on down to Hot Springs, we'll cut the nets down together.