Hilltoppers Defeat Hawks on Thanksgiving at Madison Square Garden


The Hilltoppers defeated the Saint Joseph’s Hawks 62-59 in a Thanksgiving Day matchup at Madison Square Garden, snapping a three-game losing streak. The game was the Toppers’ final contest in the NIT Season Tip-off, in which the team finished 1-2. WKU previously lost to the Minnesota Gophers and Stony Brook Seawolves.

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The Toppers were led by senior forward George Fant, who played his best game this season: 17 points, 15 rebounds and three assists. More importantly, Fant made five of six free throws, and made several impressive passes out of double-teams in the post. Fant will see plenty of double-teams this season, so the Toppers need him to continue making plays with his interior passing.

Helping Fant were guards Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks. Jackson scored 11 points, including four points off steals that resulted in layups at the other end. CHD added 12 points, but only hit two of his 11 three-point attempts.

T.J. Price scored a season-low six points, but hit four late free throws to ice the game. Because of foul trouble for the second straight game (he fouled out against Stony Brook), the senior guard played only 24 minutes and struggled to find any rhythm. Price missed seven of his eight shots, including all five attempts from deep.

The game began slow, with both teams struggling on offense and playing good defense. The Tops used a 9-5 run in the last 3:50 of the first half to build momentum and lead the Hawks at halftime, 31-24.

WKU was unable to maintain their momentum in the second half, and allowed Saint Joe’s to slowly climb back into the game. The Tops struggled to contain Hawks’ forward DeAndre Bembry, who led all scorers with 23 points. Bembry’s layup with just over two minutes remaining put St. Joe’s up 54-52.

It was a back-and-forth game down the stretch, but ultimately the veteran duo of Fant and Price clinched the game for the Toppers, with Fant getting a crucial tip-in and Price hitting clutch free throws in the final seconds. Bembry clanked a desperation three as time expired, and WKU escaped with a 62-59 win.

Head coach Ray Harper called the result a “good win,” saying although it wasn’t pretty, he would still take it. He also praised Fant for his performance.

"He was a monster. That’s the George Fant I’ve been watching for three years. I know people are like, ‘Bench him. Do this, do that.’ George is going to be fine. The thing we needed to do was show him confidence. Just go play like you’re capable of and quit worrying about everything."

It was great to see Fant have a dominant performance on a national stage. Often criticized and under-appreciated, Fant’s post play will dictate WKU’s success this season. If he consistently gives effort like tonight’s performance, the Toppers will continue to win.

Up next for the Toppers is a Wednesday night showdown in Diddle against undefeated Bowling Green State and a seven o’clock tip.

For Hilltopper Basketball coverage and commentary, follow Wave the Red Towel on Twitter at @WaveTheRedTowel.