Hilltoppers remain in position for postseason run

WKU redshirt junior Lamonte Bearden (1) shoots while Karl Gamble (25) attempts to block his shot during WKU’s game vs MTSU on Saturday, January 20. 2018. WKU lost to MTSU 62-66.

Sam Porter

With just 11 games left in the 2017-18 basketball season, WKU is in a prime position to make a postseason run. The Hilltoppers currently sit at 14-6 (6-1 Conference USA) which is a major step up from their 9-11 record mark through 20 games a season ago. Those 14 wins include a 77-73 victory over now No. 3 Purdue which is the best victory any C-USA team has had this year. The Hilltoppers are currently tied with Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee atop the C-USA standings.

“Across the top there’s some really good teams in our conference,” senior forward Justin Johnson said following WKU’s loss to MTSU on Saturday. “But we’ve got to take care of us. As long as we take care of us we’re going to be okay. Most of the time when we struggle it’s not what anyone else does, it’s stuff we do to ourselves. It’s self-inflicted stuff we do to get behind. We’ve got to learn to keep it going for 40 minutes.”

One reason that has sparked WKU’s recent success is the late arrival of freshman guard Josh Anderson and redshirt sophomore forward Moustapha Diagne. The Hilltoppers played all of non-conference play and a portion of C-USA play without both of them. When Anderson entered the game against Marshall, he became the highest-rated recruit (he was a four-star, unanimous top-60 recruit) to take the floor for WKU in the modern era. In his debut against Marshall, Anderson poured in 16 points while helping the Hilltoppers defeat the Thundering Herd 112-87.

Diagne has stepped into the role of relieving senior forward Justin Johnson and graduate transfer forward Dwight Coleby. He’s currently logging 9.5 minutes per game.

“He’s one of those guys who just makes basketball plays,” Stansbury said of Anderson. “He’s a guard that can finish above the rim. I think he’ll become a terrific defender over time.”

The success of WKU this year has led to a change in the atmosphere in Diddle Arena. In Saturday’s loss to MTSU, tickets were sold out days before the game actually took place. Despite the loss, Stansbury and the players admired the crowd and the tough environment it created.

“I think they sold 400 more tickets than we have seats in there is what
they told me,” Johnson said. “I hope they keep coming back. They were a big energy boost. It stinks we couldn’t get a win in front of them, but we’ll be back next Saturday to play in front of the crowd again and I hope they  come back.”

WKU takes on Marshall (14-6, 5-2 C-USA) in Diddle Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m. Stansbury doesn’t believe it’ll be as easy as the Hilltoppers’ 25-point victory over the Thundering Herd earlier in the month.

“It’ll be a totally different team and game,” Stansbury said of Marshall. “It won’t be easy. They spread you out. We played about as well as we could’ve played the first time around. We’ve got to bounce back and get ready for them.”

Sports reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected]. Follow Sam on Twitter at @SammyP14.