Hilltoppers set to play Missouri on Saturday

Junior forward Justin Johnson (23) drives to the basket during the Hilltoppers’ 79-66 win over Alabama State on Nov. 12, at Diddle Arena. Ebony Cox/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

After coming back from Las Vegas empty handed, Head Coach Rick Stansbury and the Hilltoppers (3-3) are preparing for more road games.

First up is long time, in-state rival Eastern Kentucky (3-4). The Battle of the Bluegrass will be rekindled on Wednesday in Richmond.

The Toppers lead the all-time series 112-43 over their former Ohio Valley Conference foe. That is the most wins against a single opponent.

The Tops have won the last 13 meetings between the two dating back to 1987. This will be the first time WKU has played at Eastern since 2007. Stansbury is also 2-0 against Eastern in his time as a head coach.

As of time of publication, the matchup between EKU and WKU had not yet taken place with tipoff coming at 7 p.m.

“We know it’ll be a super bowl game for them [EKU], it’s a big game for us cause it’s our next one,” Stansbury said. “Nothing’s easy on the road. Eastern’s got a really good team. They led Auburn at Auburn the first 30 minutes of the game, they had Texas Tech down 14 at Texas Tech.”

The Colonels are led by Nick Mayo, a sophomore big man with talent. Mayo is averaging 19.7 points a game and is someone Stansbury knows can give the team some problems.

“They got that big kid in the middle, was the freshman of the year last year in the OVC. He shoots the three, plays off the bounce, can post up, he’s a mismatch problem for a lot of people,” Stansbury explained.

One of the ways the Toppers could try to contain the physicality of Mayo is with the use of senior forward Anton Waters.

Waters has given valuable minutes off the bench for the Hilltoppers this season and has been an offensive threat down low. Not only can Waters score, but he has a knack for rebounding the basketball.

“Anton has given us some toughness off that bench, he brings some toughness and more physicalness around that paint area, a guy that seems to finish around that hole pretty good,” Stansbury said.

On Saturday at 2 p.m. the Tops will be taking on the Tigers of the University of Missouri (3-3), at Columbia, Missouri.

“I haven’t seen much about them [Missouri] yet,” Stansbury said. “Saw them, should have beat an Xavier team, thought they’re a whole lot better from last year just watching them. I know they got a Frankie Hughes kid that’s really been good for em, can shoot the ball. They got a good team.”

Statistically, the Tigers are led by Hughes who is averaging 13.5 points per game through six contests. However, Hughes’ field goal percentage currently sits at just 36 percent overall

The sharpest shooter on this Missouri team is actually guard Terrence Phillips who is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc on the season.

While he is just averaging 8.5 points per game, the guard poses a threat to the WKU defense if he is having a good night shooting the long ball.

This week of road games will give the Toppers an opportunity to get their season back on track if they can come away with a pair of wins.

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 270-745-6281 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.