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Govs struggle in loss to Hilltoppers

Robert Smith/Tnsports360.com

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

BOWLING GREEN, Ky.—With back-to-back OVC Tournament semifinal appearances and the preseason OVC Player of the Year on the roster, expectations have been sky-high for Austin Peay entering the regular season.

Something to keep in mind, as Saturday’s 97-75 loss at Western Kentucky might have indicated, is that this is a team comprised largely of freshmen. Five players entered this season with Division I experience, and only three of those got it in an Austin Peay uniform. The talent is jaw-dropping; but there are still a lot of young players learning how to play Division I basketball on the fly.

Like Saturday. At various times, a spectator could look up and see four first-time Division I players on the court with, say, Terry Taylor. There’s gonna be a learning curve; Game Two is not a referendum on anything, any more than a 43-point demolition of a Division II team was in the season opener.

Which is good, because Game Two was something of a struggle. The first 12 minutes or so saw the Govs mark the Hilltoppers shot-for-shot. Antwuan Butler was fearless in his attack of the rim, hurling his diminutive frame into the paint to either draw defenders, draw a foul or get a bucket. When he sank two free-throws at the 7:20 mark, the Govs trailed by just five.

Butler also was fearless away from the rack, not backing down when he and 6-11 All-American Charles Bassey got tangled up and jawing, which resulted in a double-technical, ensued. However, the Hilltoppers closed the half on an 18-7 run to take a 41-25 lead into halftime.

Austin Peay’s chances for a second-half comeback were severely hampered in the opening minutes out of halftime; the Hilltoppers were in the bonus by the 17:16 mark, with both Butler and backup point guard Carlos Paez with three apiece.

Despite hitting 50 percent from the floor in the second half, Austin Peay’s defense—whether due to execution or because foul issues forced them to play off the Hilltoppers—allowed Western Kentucky to hit 69.2 percent from the floor in the second half.

Taylor had 22 points, including 18 in the second half, and seven rebounds in his return to Bowling Green. Butler finished with 13 points and five assists.

The Difference

The shooting discrepancy from the floor (39.7 percent for the Govs, 60.0 percent by the Hilltoppers) explains a lot, but perhaps even more problematic was the rebounding edge. Statistically, it was fairly close—37-28, in favor of the Hilltoppers—but dig deeper and Austin Peay grabbed just eight defensive rebounds. That mark is the lowest since at least Nov. 28, 2014 against Stephen F. Austin, when the Govs grabbed 11 defensive boards.

Notably

  • Butler scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his Austin Peay career, equaling the career-high established Tuesday against Oakland City. He’s also hit eight straight free-throws to start the season after a 7-for-7 showing at the line on Saturday.
  • Butler led the Govs in assists for the 10th time in his Austin Peay career.
  • Ninety-seven points are the most allowed by the Govs in the Figger era.
  • Taylor passed Will Triggs for 14th all-time in rebounds (598) and moved into the top-five all-time with 253 offensive boards.
  • The loss is Austin Peay’s 10th straight to the Hilltoppers and ninth straight in the road opener.

Coaching Quotables with Head Coach Matt Figger

On what he takes from the game

“Not a lot of positives. We didn’t get stops, there was a stretch where we fouled too much, we didn’t rebound. We were on our heels the entire night. There were a lot of things that were a negative. We finally had to run a halfcourt offense, and we didn’t execute very well. Our bad offense led to a lot of bad things defensively.”

On learning

“It’s a great learning tool. We have to get a lot better. It’s a reality check and an eye-opener for some guys who think we may be at a certain place. We’re not there yet. It makes me sit back and look at myself; I didn’t coach a very good game and didn’t prepare these guys very well.”

Up Next for the Govs

Austin Peay has a week off before hitting the road again when the Govs travel to Oklahoma to take on Tulsa. The Govs and Golden Hurricane square off 2 p.m., Nov. 16, at the Reynolds Center.

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