BOWLING GREEN, Ky. | Trace Young (Owensboro, Ky.) narrowly missed a double-double at E.A. Diddle Arena on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a late Western Kentucky run as the Hilltoppers were able to escape with a 79-74 victory.
Young finished with a game-high 23 points on 56.3 (9-of16) percent shooting from the floor and grabbed nine rebounds in his debut for Alabama State, pacing three players in double figures for the Hornets. Juan Reyna (San Antonio, Texas) added 16 points in his collegiate debut, while Isaiah Range (Cedar Hill, Texas) added 14 points off the bench for the Hornets.
Alabama State (0-1) jumped ahead early and after WKU (1-0) tied the game at 5-all with 16:23 to play in the first half, they led until late in the second half. The Hilltoppers were able to take their first lead of the game with 4:02 remaining on one of their 17 free throws (out of 30 attempts) gave them a 64-63 lead. They were able to push the lead to seven (70-63) with 90 seconds to play before Alabama State trimmed it to four a pair of times.
The Hornets trimmed the lead to 75-72 with 21 seconds remaining on a pair of free throws by Reyna, one of nine (out of 11 attempts) by the Hornets. After WKU was able to extend the lead to 77-72, Alabama State answered with another two free throws by Reyna to get the deficit to 77-74 with nine seconds remaining before the Hilltoppers were able to put it away at the line.
Alabama State finished the night shooting 48.3 (28-of-58) percent from the floor and 40.9 (9-of-22) percent from beyond the arc, while WKU connected on 43.8 (28-of-64) percent from the floor and 31.6 (6-of-19) percent from beyond the arc.
The two teams tied in rebounding (37-all), while the Hornets were forced into 23 turnovers. The Hornets scored 31 points off the bench on the night, compared to just 10 for WKU.
Alabama State grabbed their biggest lead of the day in the first half with 5:13 to play on a Young three-pointer on a fast break to extend their lead to 32-18. The Hornets led by double digits midway through the first half and withstood every run that the Hilltoppers would attempt. WKU pulled to within three with 56 seconds to play before Alabama State answered with a Young jumper with 32 seconds to play in the half.
Alabama State was able to push the lead back to double digits with 15:59 to play in the half on a Kenny Strawbridge (Rockford, Ill.) jumper to put the Hornets up 48-36. After a run by the Hilltoppers, the lead was pushed back to 12 with 12:40 to play on a pair of Reyna free throws.
Alabama State returns to action on Wednesday night on the road at Vanderbilt, with tip scheduled at 7 pm. The game will be carried on the SEC Network+.
QUOTES (from head coach Mo Williams)
“We competed on the road on opening night in someone else’s arena, I couldn’t ask for better effort. I couldn’t ask for better execution. There are things that happened throughout the game that was out of our control, we played hard. Be down by three with ten seconds to go says a lot about our group, a lot about our growth. We will talk about, and the beauty about this thing is we play in 24 hours – less than.”
“We were ready, we told them over and over that they were going to go on runs and that they were a good basketball team and well-coached. I’ve known Rick (Stansbury) a long time, I competed against him as a player, and he recruited me. I respect him a lot and they run good stuff, but we were prepared and ready for the moment. I hate it for the guys because I always want to come out with a win, but at the same time I think we did leave here with a winning feeling headed to the next game.”
“For me it was my first non-conference game. I was excited and juiced up, I really didn’t sleep last night thinking about the game. I was ready to coach, and the guys came ready to fight. We have something to build on.”
“We are a unit that does things collectively. I think each night we will have different guys step up, and tonight it was Trace and every game will be different guys stepping up for us. That is the beauty of our team, we have guys that can step up and make plays and do things with the ball. You want triple threat type of guys, and we have a lot of those on our team. Once those guys get minutes with each other and learn each other more outside of practice, we will be that much better. This is only game one. Turnovers are a problem. In our exhibition game we had 19 and tonight we had 23, there are some things we need to clean up especially on the road.”
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