Red Wolves top the Hilltoppers
Coming into their matchup against Western Kentucky, the Red Wolves men’s basketball team had nine days to prepare thanks to the rescheduled contest against Lyon College.
Some might have expected rust, others might have expected a fluid start, but what fans got was a combination of both.
What made this midseason game even more important was the possible conference implications, with the Red Wolves (12-8, 5-4 Sun Belt) looking up at both Western Kentucky (16-7, 8-2 Sun Belt) and Georgia State (17-6, 10-0 Sun Belt) heading into the matchup.
Despite the slow offensive start, A-State was able to rely on their defense for most of the night. As the offense awakened it was enough to help the Red Wolves pull away from the second place Hilltoppers by a final of 72-58 on Monday night at the Convocation Center.
“As a coach, you can put together a plan about what you want to do and you can work it into practice, but the players carried the plan out,” said Head Coach John Brady. “The sense of urgency they played with, the involvement, the toughness they showed defensively was really good.”
The Red Wolves won the ball game despite shooting 28.6 percent (8-28) in the first half. Senior forward Kirk Van Slyke also played only the first 4:25 of the first half due to foul trouble.
Sophomore forward Kelvin Downs replaced Van Slyke and immediately made an impact, totaling eight points and three rebounds on the night, with most of the damage coming in the first half.
Senior guard Melvin Johnson III helped Downs along the way and finished with a game high 22 points on 8-12 shooting.
Downs and Johnson III scored the first 20 points of the night for the Red Wolves. The first basket scored by a different player came from senior guard Brandon Reed, who nailed two free throws to give the Red Wolves a 21-17 lead with 1:55 to play in the first half, before ultimately settling for a 25-20 halftime lead.
A-State put together a strong second half and played well on both sides of the basketball. After mustering only 25 points in the first half the team nearly doubled that total in the final 20 minutes, scoring 47. The defense began to string together stops, helping the Red Wolves pull away late in the second half despite some chippy plays, one of which included a technical foul assessed to junior guard Rakeem Dickerson.
A-State also shot the ball better in the second half at 55 percent (11-20) from the floor.
The key shooting stat of the night however belonged at the charity stripe. The Red Wolves found themselves at the free throw line quite often in the second half and they would flourish from the stripe. The men shot an 85 percent clip (29-34) from the foul line, compared to only 70.8 percent (17-24) for the Hilltoppers.
Defensively, A-State dominated the second half, limiting the starting Hilltoppers, led by junior forward George Fant and junior guard T.J. Price, to a combined two points. The Red Wolves also outrebounded the Hilltoppers 33-31, and scored 24 points off Hilltopper turnovers.
“This was satisfying but we know what we’ve got ahead,” said Ed Townsel, senior guard. “We’re just proud we got this win and we’ll get ready for the next two road games we have coming up.”
The victory improved the Red Wolves to 13-8 overall, 6-4 in Sun Belt Conference play, while the loss dropped WKU to 16-8 overall, 8-3 in Sun Belt Conference play. Both schools sit behind conference leader Georgia State, who sits perfect in conference play.
The Red Wolves take to the road next to play conference foe South Alabama in Mobile, Ala. Tip off time is set for 7:05 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Mitchell Center.
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