"We're in the twilight zone, just like last year." -WKU Head Coach Ray Harper.
The glass slipper has presented itself again to the Hilltoppers. They need only one more win to find that perfect fit. The long road to the conference title was met with a huge roadblock Sunday night by way of Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were the two seed in the tournament, and had handled the Tops handily in two match ups during the season. Yet, WKU found a way to win 58-56. They did it the way they had done it all tournament, with a last second push and some luck.
WKU found themselves down by one with 22 seconds to go, but didn't panic. T.J. Price stood atop the key guarding ASU point guard Ed Townsel ready to strike. Then within the blink of an eye he made a cat like swipe at the ball knocking it loose toward the Hilltopper basket. Price ran the ball down and laid it in softly to give the Tops the ultimate lead and a key to the Sun Belt Conference Championship game.
"Coach told me to stay low and try to keep my man in front of him. That's what I did. I just tried my best to stay low and he put the ball in front of me. When I saw it I just went for it." said Price of his key play.
WKU led most of the game. They trailed early but went on a 9-0 run with around 13 minutes to go in the first half. The rally was fueled by Stephon Drane who had two consecutive post moves to end a Hilltopper drought. From that point on WKU didn't look back. The team led 28-26 at the half and didn't relinquish it again until there was just under four minutes left in the game. Every possession was a back and forth, edge of your seat, moment until the buzzer rang. George Fant fouled out with one minute and a half to spare. It was an end to a dismal night for Fant, but he was no less happy after the win. Jamal Crook also had a tough game but sank a big free throw with ten seconds left to force an ASU 3-pointer on the other end. The shot came up short and the hundreds of fans who have traveled from South Central Kentucky roared with approval.
"We're in the twilight zone, just like last year. It's what it seems like. We put ourselves in a position to win the game. It was back and forth, and we had a couple of breakdowns defensively." said Coach Ray Harper.
The one thing Coach iterated the most about his team's effort was just that, effort.
"We didn't quit. We kept competing and gave ourselves a chance. This time of year what you want is to play hard enough and be sound enough in the half court offensively and defensively that you give yourself a chance to win."
Monday's championship game is scheduled to air on ESPN at 6 PM. It will give WKU a chance to showcase it's basketball team on the national stage no doubt. The only question is, will the shoe fit in 2013?
T.J. Price had 24 points on 8-20 shooting, while going 7-7 from the charity stripe. WKU's next leading scorer was Brandon Harris who had 11, including 3 3-point baskets. The score was tied six times and the lead changed five times. Okaro Akumune and Trey Finn of ASU were each charged with technical fouls during the second half after the players shoved on another during a dead ball.
Click on the link below to hear from Coach Harper on the game.