It was a magical night at E.A. Diddle arena where 4,461 fans, just three hours removed from a trip to Detroit, saw the Tops extend their home winning streak to eleven games.
The stars were in the building tonight to watch the Hilltoppers take on the Golden Panthers (4-5) of FIU. Bobby Petrino was given a standing ovation during the second media timeout. His former Louisville co-worker, Rick Pitino, was looking on from behind his son's bench in a nice gray scarf.
Western Kentucky legend, John Oldham, was honored before the game when WKU President Ransdell and WKU AD Todd Stewart announced that the floor in Diddle Arena would be named "John Oldham Court," from here on out. Oldham was an All-American guard for WKU, winning 102 games as a player. His coaching tenure at the Hill began in 1964; winning 146 games in 7 seasons while compiling a 78-4 (95%) record at home. He led WKU to their only NCAA Final Four appearance in 1971, his last year as head coach.
The banged-up Toppers started the game off with Harris, Blade, Rostov, Akamune, and Fant. If I was told at the beginning of the season that we would be going with this lineup at any point, I would have laughed at the person that told me and publicly shamed them on Twitter.
Harper quickly went to the bench, bringing in both T.J. Price and Kevin Kaspar. Kaspar and Price were both game time decisions, Kaspar being the least likely to see action. Both players looked to be fairly healthy upon arrival into the game. Kaspar provided WKU with an offensive spurt, scoring eight quick points.
Hilltopper sophomore, George Fant, had a solid first half of play. He finished around the basket much better than he had all season, scoring 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
WKU surged in front of the Golden Panthers for a few minutes but great three-point shooting helped FIU erase WKU's eleven point lead. At halftime the score was tied at 33 apiece with FIU shooting 50% from behind the arc.
The Golden Panthers ran a very "Pitino like" 2-2-1 press against the Tops but unlike the VCU and Louisville games, the Tops handled the pressure well. The full-time return of T.J. Price definitely had a positive impact on the Hilltoppers offense.
After a Kaspar 3-pointer that put the Tops up 51-47 with 10:56 left in the game, Fant went down hard on his shoulder and left the game. It appeared that his shoulder may have popped out of socket when he hit the ground. After a Mike Gaddy quality assurance inspection, Fant returned to the game.
Towards the end of the game there were a few questionable calls that brought fans to their feet showing "displeasure" with the officials. The first call was a foul on Drane during a three-point shot. The foul was away from the ball but looked like it had taken place before the shot ever went up. The second call happened when Kaspar lost his footing after being pushed by an FIU defender, resulting in a travelling violation.
The Toppers started to pull away from FIU behind some nice shots from Kaspar and Price. In the end the Tops help of the Golden Panthers for a 76-63 victory, their third conference win.
Marcus Vasquez and Kawaun Jakes became the first players in FBS history to play in a football game and a basketball game in a 24 hour period. They both logged a minute of action.
George Fant led the way with a career high 24 points for the Toppers.
"I've been trying to dominate practice all week," Fant commented about his preparation. "I knew I was going to have a good game tonight."
Kevin Kaspar ended the night with 17 points, hitting five of eight from behind the arc. Brandon Harris and T.J. Price handled FIU's pressure well, scoring 13 and 12 points.
"Total team effort," Harper said after the game. "They gutted it out, they played with heart. We're not 100% but we're getting there."
The Tops return to action Saturday night against the North Texas Mean Green at Diddle Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 CST.