Offensive explosion guides WKU basketball to 2-0 start

WKU redshirt junior forward Carson Williams (22) dribbles the ball against Austin Peay on in E. A. Diddle Arena on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team has caught fire offensively, as it is outpacing its scoring average from last year by 15.1 points through the first two games.

The Hilltoppers (2-0) opened up their 2019-20 regular season slate on a high note last week, earning a pair of double-digit home victories against Ohio Valley Conference opponents Tennessee Tech (1-1) last Tuesday and Austin Peay (1-1) on Saturday.

WKU cruised past the Golden Eagles 76-64 and the Governors 97-75, posting a 2-0 start to the regular season for the first time since the 2016-17 schedule.

“There’s always some good and bad that you can take from one of those games,” head coach Rick Stansbury said following the APSU game. “We knew it would be a different kind of style than we played in the first game. It was more physical, aggressive, man-to-man defense. Some good and bad, things to work on, but some areas I was very pleased with.”

The WKU offense erupted for 97 points against the Governors, surpassing the season-high 96 points the 2018-19 Hilltoppers posted in an overtime win against Texas-San Antonio on Jan. 31.

This breakout performance came just one week after the team shot 3-of-20 from behind the arc in their 85-45 exhibition win over Kentucky State on Nov. 2.

“I’m going to be honest, we [hadn’t] really practiced much on [John Oldham Court] going into the exhibition,” graduate guard Camron Justice said. “After we shot so poorly in the exhibition, we mentioned to coach, ‘Get us in the gym and let us get more comfortable with it,’ and everything like that. I think it really has helped us.”

Since WKU started getting more shots up on John Oldham Court, the Hilltoppers have made 16-of-36 shots from distance, resulting in 44% shooting from deep during the regular season.

WKU’s shooting performances in its first two regular season games is likely no surprise to Stansbury, who has been praising the Hilltoppers’ ability to shoot the ball effectively.

The Hilltoppers scored 71.4 points per game last season, but Stansbury said on Sept. 27 he believes his 2019-20 team will be much better when it comes to putting points on the board.

“We’re not going to score 71 points a game this year,” Stansbury said. “I can tell you that — for sure that will be better.”

WKU has played much better offensively so far, shooting 50% from the floor in its opening matchup against the Golden Eagles and 60% from the field against the Governors.

The Hilltoppers have yet to trail in either of their regular season contests this season, thanks in no small part to Stansbury returning 75.2% of his scoring from a season ago.

But WKU also welcomed several new additions to a solid list of returning players, namely Justice and redshirt junior Carson Williams, a newly eligible Northern Kentucky transfer.

Williams and Justice have both provided another layer to the Hilltoppers, bringing excellent effort on offense and defense that WKU was sorely lacking a season ago.

While Williams scored 12 points and picked up six boards against the Governors, Justice exploded from the floor in just his second regular season game with the Hilltoppers.

Justice scored 22 points on 5-of-7 from behind the line, finishing the game as one of five WKU starters with double-digit scoring.

“You know, this is my third game in here now,” Justice said. “It’s all about being comfortable. I think playing under Coach Stansbury and playing with these guys, I’ve found out a lot of their tendencies and stuff like that. So, I’m starting to get more comfortable with them, as they are with me. It just felt good tonight.”

Following a solid start to the 2019-20 season, the Hilltoppers will hit the road for the first time and travel to Richmond to take on in-state rival Eastern Kentucky (1-1) this weekend.

WKU will be looking to start 3-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, which was the same year the Hilltoppers made a run to the Sweet 16.

The Colonels started their 2019-20 campaign with a 79-68 win over Chattanooga on Nov. 5, but EKU lost its first game of the season in a 91-49 blowout at No. 2 Kentucky last weekend.

The Hilltoppers and Colonels last met on Nov. 29, 2017, when WKU defeated EKU 83-51 in Diddle Arena. That win helped WKU improve its lead in the all- time series to 113-44.

Tipoff between WKU and EKU is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday in Alumni Coliseum.

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at [email protected] Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.