Hilltoppers head into final road trip of the season

Redshirt Senior guard Pancake Thomas (12) drives to the hoop as he is defended by Middle Tennessee guard Tyrik Dickson (0) and guard Adonis Foote (45) during WKU’s 78-52 loss to MTSU on Thursday Feb. 16, 2017 in Diddle Arena.

Matthew Stewart

Not too long ago Head Coach Rick Stansbury and the Hilltoppers were talking about the high volume of road games to start off the season.

Now, that seemingly never-ending cycle of road games is coming to an end. The Tops (13-14, 7-7 C-USA) are headed on their last road trip of the regular season, beginning with a tilt at the University of North Carolina Charlotte on Thursday and ending with a game in Norfolk, Virginia, against Old Dominion on Saturday.

Charlotte has lost five of its last six games and very similar to WKU, is looking to bounce back before tournament play.

The 49ers have four players averaging double figures with Jon Davis leading the way at 20 points per game, followed by Austin Ajukwa (11.8) Andrien White (10.5) and Braxton Ogbueze (10.1).

Earlier this season the Tops bested Charlotte on Jan. 5 in Diddle Arena. It was a tight game from start to finish,  but the Tops came out victorious with a final score of 82-80.

Five Hilltoppers were in double-figures in that game, led by Que Johnson and Pancake Thomas who scored 14 apiece.

The second game of the road swing pits WKU against the third-place team in C-USA.

Old Dominion (16-10, 9-5 C-USA) is the opponent and the Monarchs already collected a 79-67 victory over the Hilltoppers on Jan. 7 in Diddle.

With a couple of wins this week, the Tops have a chance to pull within the top three of C-USA on this trip away from home.

The Monarchs are the same team that ended WKU’s season nearly one year ago in the C-USA Tournament with an 89-77 win in Birmingham. The Monarchs were led by then senior guard Trey Freeman who hung 42 points on the Hilltoppers, 34 of which came in the second half.

With Freeman now gone, ODU is led by a resurgent group of upperclassmen. Sophomores Ahmad Caver, Zoran Talley, B.J. Stith and junior forward Brandan Stith all average north of 10 points per game.

In the Monarch’s earlier win over WKU, the trio of Talley, Caver and B.J. Stith combined for 63 of ODU’s 79 points. Brandan Stith did not play in that game.

With the conference tournament approaching, any bit of momentum can help spark a team, and the Tops have a bit of that heading into Charlotte on Thursday in their most recent victory.

The Tops were victorious in a matchup with the Blazers of UAB this past Saturday, winning by a final score of 76-64.

After an abysmal offensive performance three nights prior against Middle Tennessee, junior forward Justin Johnson posted a career high 26 points to go along with 14 rebounds against UAB.

Coach Stansbury noted his scorers need to continue playing at that level and hitting shots like they did against UAB.

“We gotta carry this confidence on the road,” Stansbury said after the game.

Tip-off on Thursday is set for 6 p.m. and can be watched via online stream on Campus Insiders. Saturday’s game against ODU will tip off  at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 859-797-3140 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.