BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Four Hilltoppers were in double figures Thursday night at E.A. Diddle Arena, as WKU won its 11th-straight home game to improve to 3-0 in Sun Belt Conference play with a 76-63 win over FIU. George Fant and Kevin Kaspar notched career highs with 24 and 17 points, respectively, and 13 Hilltoppers saw action in the team effort. The Hilltoppers are now 9-5 overall on the season, and FIU drops to 4-6 overall and 1-2 in conference play.
The 3-0 mark in league play is WKU's best since an identical start to the 2008-09 conference campaign. Thursday's game was the 2,500th in the history of WKU men's basketball, and the program now holds a 1,668-832 all-time record.
Fant was 9-for-12 from the field en route to the 24 points, and Kaspar buried a career-best five three-pointers in 37 minutes of action. Brandon Harris added 13 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and six assists in 40 minutes, and T.J. Price had 12 points and five assists. Stephon Drane added eight points and five rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.
Harris has now played all but four minutes of the last four WKU contests. FIU was paced by 20 points by Malik Smith and 14 and eight rebounds by Tymell Murphy.
WKU shot 54.3 percent from the field as a team in the game (25-for-46) and had 15 assists on the 25 baskets. WKU buried a season high nine three-pointers in the game and went 17-for-21 from the free throw line (.810). FIU shot 46.0 percent in the game (23-for-50), and WKU outrebounded the Panthers 29-26.
WKU is now 9-2 on the season and 17-3 under head coach Ray Harper when outrebounded its opponent in a game.
WKU sprinted out to a 11-point advantage in the first seven minutes of the game thanks to a 15-2 scoring run, but FIU climbed back thanks to separate scoring runs of 9-0 and 6-0 to tie the game at 33 entering the halftime intermission.
Smith led all scorers with 14 first-half points thanks in part to four three-pointers, and Fant led WKU with 13 points. The Hilltoppers shot 53.8 percent (14-for-26) as a team in the first 20 minutes, and FIU converted at a 48.1 percent clip (13-for-27). The teams combined to bury 10 three-pointers in the first half.
The teams went back and forth to start the second half with neither leading by more than two possessions for the first 11 minutes of the half, until WKU went on a 10-2 scoring run with back-to-back triples by Kaspar and Price and four Fant free throws to open a 65-54 advantage.
FIU got as close as seven down the stretch, but the Hilltoppers had six of the final seven points of the game to cruise to the 13-point win.
WKU has now won nine of the last 10 games against FIU and leads the all-time series 29-5.
WKU seniors Kawaun Jakes and Marcus Vasquez joined the Hilltopper team and saw action on Thursday night, less than 24 hours after playing in WKU's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl game against Central Michigan in Detroit, Mich. Both were four-year letterwinners on the gridiron for the Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers honored legendary WKU figure John Oldham in a pregame ceremony in which the court at E.A. Diddle Arena was christened "John Oldham Court." Oldham was a Hilltopper player, head men's basketball coach and athletic director during his time on the Hill.
WKU next hosts North Texas on Saturday night at 7:00. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court, regionally on WKYU-PBS and in Louisville on WBNA. It is Boy Scout Night on Saturday, and all Boy Scouts can receive a free ticket to the game.
Saturday's game also features a special presentation as part of WKU's "50 Seasons of Diddle Arena" celebration. Former Hilltopper Bobby Rascoe will have his jersey retired at halftime of the game.