At the time, Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper was not happy about being dealt a myriad of injuries that contributed to his team losing 12 of 17 games this season.
In the broader sense, it may have been a blessing in disguise that allowed for improved depth and matured play.
The Hilltoppers’ bench outscored South Alabama 30-7 in a 79-73 win Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena. Junior guard Brandon Harris led the charge with 12 while junior forward O’Karo Akamune added eight and Kevin Kaspar scored six.
“These guys never lost their confidence,” Harper said. “They continued to believe in each other. I don’t know if anyone in college basketball has ever gone through that, as many guys as we had hurt.”
Senior Jamal Crook missed significant time with a broken foot, sophomore guard T.J. Price fought through a sprained ankle, redshirt junior Caden Dickerson separated a shoulder and Kaspar, a sophomore guard, has battled a nagging hamstring strain all season.
Those who remained healthy never lost hope, Harper said.
“They were giving us everything we had and we knew Jamal would be back soon,” Harper said. “We never panicked. We just continued to coach and continued to teach and continued to work. We knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.
“Still have a long way to go, but we’ve gotten better and it’s all because of those kids’ attitudes and how hard they’ve continued to work.”
Anyigbo a comin’
Western Kentucky junior forward Kene Anyigbo went a 19-game stretch this season with a total 18 points. He has 11 points in his last three games and has played a total of 50 minutes in those contests.
“He’s been amazing this whole year,” Harris said. “Like I keep telling y’all, you might not see the production in the game all the time, but in practice he’s always working and he’s finally getting his opportunity.
“He’s been working his tail off for us and I’m happy for him. I really am happy for him and he’s starting to get his opportunity. He’s showing out, too. He’s taking it and running with it.”
Anyigbo also had two rebounds and an assist in the win.
The Hilltoppers’ win Thursday didn’t help them in the race for a first-round bye for the conference tournament, which starts Thursday in Hot Springs, Ark.
Florida International wrapped up the No. 4 seed while Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State and South Alabama had already claimed the top three positions in that order before play started Thursday night.
The Tops are tied with Arkansas-Little Rock and need the Trojans to lose Saturday at home against ASU while the Tops must beat MTSU.
Otherwise, WKU will end up the No. 6 team and play last place Louisiana-Monroe on Friday.
•WKU has made at least eight 3-pointers in four straight contests, and at least one 3-pointer in 802 straight games.
•Crook needs 12 assists to pass Darrin Horn’s 332, sixth most all-time in WKU history.
•WKU sophomore forward George Fant has started 39 straight games.
•The Tops improved to 13-2 when leading at halftime and 15-0 when leading with less than five minutes to play.
•Dickerson has scored 11 points and is 3-for-20 shooting in his last 11 games.