Home Court Hopes: Hilltoppers prepare for home conference battles

February 13, 2016: Western Kentucky forward Ben Lawson (14) tries to slam home the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marshall at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

Senior guard Trey Freeman and the Monarchs of Old Dominion (14-11) will face the WKU men’s basketball team (12-13) for the second time this season Thursday night in Diddle Arena.

The Monarchs bested the Toppers in the teams’ earlier matchup on Old Dominion’s home court with a 68-62 victory. The Hilltoppers will have their hands full with a player that received high praise from the WKU program.

Freeman is one of two Old Dominion players averaging double figures. Freeman is averaging 21 points per contest while shooting 43 percent from the floor. Freeman has 192 more points than the second leading scorer.

“His stats don’t lie,” junior forward Ben Lawson said.

One of the aspects of Freeman’s play that has been seemingly lost in basketball is the use of the mid-range game. His unique approach changes his opponents’ defensive schemes.

“His ability to use screens and read screens — his mid-range jump shot — is probably the best I’ve ever seen,” Lawson said.  “His level-headedness, his ability to run his team — he’s a big threat. This time we got a few adjustments that might throw him off a little bit.”

“When he [Freeman] gets in that 15-foot, 17-foot range, he very rarely misses that shot. They do a great job of screening him to get him open,” Head Coach Ray Harper said.

The Toppers have been without their starting point guard, freshman Chris McNeal, for 10 days now. In that time, junior guard Fredrick Edmond has jumped right in and played quite well.

In the Toppers’ loss to Marshall this past Saturday, Edmond dropped 25 points to lead all scorers while dishing out four assists and making plays at the rim.

Edmond will play a large role in containing Freeman in Thursday’s game, and WKU will depend on him to set the tone of the Topper offense.

“I think he came [to WKU] probably with his own intentions. I think he’s thrown that out the window. All he wants to do is win,” Lawson said. “He’s starting to make the right decisions; he’s really starting to develop his game.”

Edmond is gaining the trust of the coaches as well as his teammates even in late-game situations. He has an uncanny ability to fight his way through traffic and find the rim.

“He’s really starting to grasp and understand what we want from him,” Harper said. “At times he still has to slow down and read some things. He is getting better every day, and I don’t think he has even touched the surface of what he can be.”

The Toppers will be back in Diddle on Saturday at 2 p.m. to take on Charlotte (10-15) before going on a two-game road swing. They will then head back to Bowling Green for their final two regular season games.

WKU dropped its first matchup with Charlotte earlier in the season in a 88-71 blowout loss in North Carolina. The Toppers will look to slow down guard Jon Davis, who torched the Toppers for 23 points on 9-12 shooting in their last matchup.