Hilltopper attendance continues to rise through ups and downs

Big Red urges the crowd to rise to its feet in support of WKU during the second half of WKU’s game vs MTSU in Diddle Arena. 

Kaden Gaylord

It’s no secret that home crowds can change the momentum of a game in an instant, and WKU is trying to get that momentum on its side, coining the hashtag #SellOutDiddle, which has turned into a catchphrase for Diddle Arena and the WKU fanbase.

Over the past couple seasons, the campaign seems to be working, as the average attendance of WKU men’s basketball games has increased year-over- year. For the 2017-2018 season, the men’s team had the eighth-largest attendance average increase in Division l basketball, going from 3,915 fans per game in 2016-17 to 5,487, which was a 40 percent average increase of 1,572 fans per game, according to WKU Athletics.

Through the first eight home games of the 2018-2019 season, WKU has had an average attendance of 5,781 fans, an increase of 294 fans per game from the previous year. The Hilltoppers have also set some individual game attendance records early in the season.

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WKU’s home-opening crowd of 5,815 on Nov. 10 against UT Martin was the largest home-opening attendance since the 2007-2008 season of 6,271 against Kennesaw State.

“It’s a start,” head coach Rick Stansbury said at the time. “We need all those butts in those seats … the atmosphere is great, it helps our team … and we’ve just got to keep building on it.”

Attendance remained strong for the Hilltoppers until winter break started, when it predictably dropped off while students were away from Bowling Green. Even with the lack of student support, numbers remained high, with the lowest-attended game of the season against Florida Atlantic, which drew 4,963 fans to Diddle, still being registered as a sellout.

The game’s attendance was also much higher than the lowest-attended game of 2017-2018, a contest against Nicholls State that drew 3,378 to Diddle to see the Hilltoppers win 100-86. Both years’ lowest-attended games crushed the one from 2016-2017, when only 2,568 made their way to the arena for a winter-break C-USA matchup against Charlotte.

This season’s winter-break slump was broken shortly after Christmas when WKU fans responded to Stansbury’s early-season challenge in the teams’ biggest win of the season against 15th-ranked Wisconsin on Dec. 29 when the Hilltoppers recorded their largest attendance of the season, 7,614 fans, making it their fourth-largest crowd in Diddle Arena since its renovation.

“That was the best [crowd] I have seen so far,” freshman guard Dalano Banton said. “We need that every time to help us play with the energy we played with in order to win big games.”

The Hilltoppers’ most-recent home win was a revenge game against a Marshall team that beat them in the C-USA championship game last season by one point and pulled off a comeback victory several days earlier in a game at Marshall. The Bowling Green faithful made its presence known by posting its second-highest attendance numbers of the season, with 6,369 in attendance to see the Hilltoppers pull off an 85-74 win over the Thundering Herd.

“A lot of fans come out and show their support, and we appreciate them a lot,” sophomore forward Josh Anderson said after the game. “I feel like they play a big part of the game, and we feed off of their energy.”

WKU currently has a home record of 6-2, with its only losses coming against Troy and C-USA opponent Florida International. The Hilltoppers have four more home games left to play in the regular season, with the next two being back-to-back home games, first on Thursday against Texas-San Antonio and Saturday against Texas-El Paso.

Sports reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @_KLG3.