WKU falls 64-57 to top-seeded Kansas

WKU and head coach Ray Harper fell 64-57 to the Jayhawks on Friday night, after the Toppers led 31-30 at halftime.

Western Kentucky made more field goals, more 3-pointers, grabbed more rebounds, and committed less turnovers than top-seeded Kansas.

But it wasn't enough for the Hilltoppers to make history.

WKU and head coach Ray Harper fell 64-57 to the Jayhawks on Friday night, after the Toppers led 31-30 at halftime.

Senior point guard Jamal Crook led the Toppers with 13 points and 9 rebounds in the just-short upset bid.

"In the first half, I thought that we controlled the game for the most part," he said. "They did everything that we wanted them to do.

"In the second half, coach told us they were going to come out aggressive. And I thought the first four to five minutes they were more aggressive."

The Jayhawks made a comeback in the second half after the Toppers' frontcourt was saddled with foul trouble, led by their senior center Jeff Withey, who finished with 17 points, 7 blocks and 6 rebounds.

WKU freshman center Alex Rostov was tacked with the responsibility of guarding Withey throughout the night.

"He (Withey)'s a great player," Rostov said. "He's got a big body, and he's a good, smart player.

"It was a good experience for me to play against him."

The Toppers won the turnover battle 17-10 over the Jayhawks, and also won the rebounding battle 41-35.

WKU shot 21-for-66 from the field (32 percent), including 3-for-20 (15 percent) from 3-point range.

Kansas shot 20-for-42 from the field (48 percent) and was held without a 3-point field goal (0-for-6) in the contest.

Four Hilltopper players finished in double figures, including Crook's 13 points, sophomore guard T.J Price with 12, Rostov with 11 points, and sophomore forward George Fant added 10.

Harper said the close loss was unfortunate, but not frustrating.

"It's part of basketball," he said. "You know, our kids did everything they needed to do to put themselves in a position to try to win the basketball game.

"As a coach, that's all you can ask. Sure, we didn't have some shots go in that we normally make. But that's the game of basketball, guys. It's a game of inches."

With a team that graduates only one senior (Crook), Harper said he's optimistic about the future.

"We went through some adversity this season," he said. "Which I think adversity will tell you a lot about people.

"I knew I had a strong group of young men when we went through what we went through. They never blinked. They came to work every day. They allowed me to coach them. They allowed us as a coaching staff try to help them get better. Hopefully we can continue to build and grow from here."

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