Hilltoppers travel down to MTSU ending road swing

Western Kentucky University guard Kenny Cooper (21) reacts to receiving a foul during the WKU vs. Marshall University game in E.A Diddle Arena on Jan. 15, 2021. The WKU Hilltoppers defeated the Marshall Thundering Herd 81-73.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (11-4), (4-2 C-USA) will wrap up their three game road swing against conference rival Middle Tennessee State (3-7), (1-3, C-USA). The Hilltoppers have won the last two meetings between the conference opponents. 

“We want to keep getting that ball inside, it’s kind of the strength of our team with Charles [Bassey] or with Carson [Williams],” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We want to drive it in there the best we can, it just depends on how people guard you a little bit.” 

The last time these two teams met on the court, the Hilltoppers took home the win 69-53. Senior Taveion Hollingsworth led the team in scoring with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 2-of-2 from behind the arc, and had five rebounds, two assists and three steals. 

The Blue Raiders are currently last in the East Division of Conference USA after dropping both games to Southern Mississippi on the road last weekend. 

MTSU is led by redshirt junior Jordan Davis and junior Dontrell Shuler. Both players average about 11 points a game and are the only two on MTSU’s roster who average double digit points. 

Shuler has not played since MTSU’s loss against Ole Miss, five weeks ago, where he scored 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and is set to return to the lineup this weekend for the Blue Raiders. 

“I think it’s a team effort regardless of who we are playing,” senior Josh Anderson said. “I feel like we’re a good enough team defensively. As long as we lock in on defense, I feel like we can contain anybody in our conference.”

An interesting matchup that could come into play is WKU redshirt junior Kenny Cooper and MTSU senior Donovan Sims who grew up together. Cooper is a native of Nashville, Tennessee while Sims is a homegrown product of Murfreesboro. The two grew up playing against each other. 

“It’ll be just another time competing against him,” Cooper said. “We’ve been competing our whole lives. It’ll be another contest of us trying to come out successfully but also it will have a little bit more meaning to it.” 

The Blue Raiders are currently last in the conference in scoring offense, putting up 61 points a game, but are fifth in scoring defense, giving up 65 points a game. 

MTSU has the worst team field goal shooting percentage, 37%, out of all of the teams in the conference but WKU has the fourth worst defense, allowing teams to shoot an average of 44% shots per game from the field. 

Junior Charles Bassey will be on the court this year after not getting to play against Middle Tennessee last year. Bassey earned his fifth conference player of the week award and coming off of a series where he had a career high in rebounds for a game. Bassey can possibly do the same against a team who’s leading rebounders are both 6-foot-6.

“He makes the game a lot easier, let’s be honest,” Cooper said. “His presence inside, offensively and defensively. He’s blocking shots, alternating shots, he’s a constant force inside if you feed him on the block. If you take a shot, we’re confident he’ll get the rebound.” 

The Murphy Center Complex will be the site for the series as game one takes place on Saturday at 4 p.m. followed by a 1 p.m. start on Sunday. Game one will be shown on ESPN+ while game two will be shown on the CBS Sports Network. 

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.