Hilltoppers welcome Marshall for conference battle

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

Last Saturday against Middle Tennessee, the WKU men’s basketball team (14-6, 6-1 C-USA) had a chance to separate themselves from the rest of Conference USA. Following a 66-62 loss to the Blue Raiders, the Hilltoppers are now one of three teams (MTSU, Old Dominion) with one loss atop the C-USA standings. Right behind those three teams is WKU’s next opponent Marshall (14-6, 5-2 C-USA).

Less than three weeks ago, the Hilltoppers man-handled the Thundering Herd 112-87 in Huntington, West Virginia. But head coach Rick Stansbury doesn’t expect a blowout when Marshall comes to Diddle Arena on Saturday night.

“We don’t even need to think about what happened last time,” Stansbury said. “We couldn’t have played any better. It will be totally different this time. They just did something we couldn’t do: Beat Middle Tennessee at home. It will be a nail-biting situation on Saturday.”

The Thundering Herd backcourt features Jon Elmore (22.1 points per game) and C.J. Burks (21.4 PPG) which is the highest scoring duo in all of C-USA. Elmore, the defending scoring leader in C-USA, is the only player in the nation to average 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game. He’s also the only player in the nation with multiple triple-doubles.

Marshall also has forward Adjin Penava, the nation’s leader in blocks (88). Penava missed the majority of the two teams’ first matchup due to an injury suffered early in the game but has recovered and will play on Saturday. In Penava’s absence, senior forwards Justin Johnson and Dwight Coleby dominated down low, outscoring the Thundering Herd 70-20 in the paint. WKU was also without redshirt sophomore forward Moustapha Diagne who was not yet cleared by the NCAA.

Diagne has averaged just 0.5 PPG and 2.5 RPG but has complimented Coleby and Johnson underneath.

“As a team, you never want to lose twice to the same opponent,” Diagne said. “If you play them once, you have a sense of how they want to play. They’re going to come out ready and so will we.”

Since last week, Stansbury mentioned the team has been dealing with sickness. Graduate transfer guard Darius Thompson played last Saturday’s game vs. MTSU without being 100 percent healthy. Stansbury said Thompson had been puking the day of the game. If healthy, Thompson will look to duplicate his triple-double performance in WKU’s first meeting vs. Marshall. Stansbury also said junior Lamonte Bearden (strep throat) has been out of practice all week and is questionable against Marshall.

“When you go through a season, you’re going to have some injuries, different lineups and other adversity that you have to overcome,” Stansbury said. “It’s part of the game. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Nobody is going to cancel any games. It’s just part of it.”

WKU and Marshall tip off at 6 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

“You prep for every game the same way. You can’t think about what happened last time,” Coleby said. “They have all their players back this time so it should be fun.”

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