BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU picked up its third-straight win Thursday night at E.A. Diddle Arena, knocking off South Alabama, who entered the game in second place in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, 79-73 behind 22 points by T.J. Price and three other double-figure scorers. The win improves WKU to 16-14 overall and 10-9 in Sun Belt Conference play entering the final regular-season game on Saturday, and South Alabama falls to 16-11 and 13-6.
WKU is now 10-1 over the last two seasons in games played on or after February 21, and the Hilltoppers have won 16 of their last 19 home games. With the win, WKU equaled last season's win total five games sooner.
Price hit eight free throws and two three-pointers en route to his fourth 20-point game in his last six outings, and George Fant added 13 points and eight rebounds. Brandon Harris contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Aleksejs Rostov had 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Augustine Rubit led South Alabama with 23 points and nine rebounds, and Javier Carter had a double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
WKU shot 57.1 percent as a team in the second half (12-for-21) and 48.2 percent for the game (27-for-56), and the Hilltoppers drained eight three-pointers for the fourth-straight game. South Alabama finished the game shooting 41.1 percent (23-for-56). WKU won the battle of the boards, 38-30.
WKU and South Alabama proved ready to play Thursday night, as a back-and-forth game ensued from the opening tip. WKU opened the game for the first time with an 11-0 scoring run over 3:31 to take a 22-14 lead, highlighted by a Kevin Kaspar three-pointer, six points by Price and a bucket by Rostov.
The Hilltoppers scored six-straight in the final two minutes to take its largest lead of the game thus far at 39-27, but South Alabama drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring the game to 39-30 in favor of WKU heading into the halftime break.
WKU shot 42.9 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes (15-for-35) and made five of 11 three-point tries (.455). WKU limited South Alabama to 32.0 percent shooting (8-for-25), and the Hilltoppers held a 25-16 advantage on the boards. WKU had seven assists on its 15 first-half baskets.
South Alabama brought the game within five points at 50-45 with just under 14:00 remaining in the game, but the Hilltoppers answered right back with seven-straight points to re-take a 57-45 lead as the game entered the final half of the second period. During that key run, Kene Anyigbo was the spark after making a jumper, an assist in the lane and then by taking a charge on the defensive end.
The run extended to 12-3 as the Hilltoppers took their largest lead of the night at 62-48, but the Jaguars answered back with six-straight of their own before O'Karo Akamune made a layup to end the run.
The Jaguars pulled within four points at 72-68 with 2:40 remaining, and South Alabama made it a three-point game one minute later after an Antoine Allen free throw. But the Hilltoppers converted five free throws and forced the Jaguars to miss four of their last five shots down the stretch to seal the 79-73 win.
The Hilltopper bench accounted for 30 points in the game, and WKU scored 30 points off 15 South Alabama turnovers. WKU also scored 34 points in the paint and had 21 second-chance points.