Hilltoppers start conference play with blowout loss at Marshall

Hilltopper basketball junior guard Fredrick Edmond (25) shoots the ball while Kentucky Wesleyan seniors Tamron Manning (0) and Basil Deveaux (1) attempt to block during the exhibition game at Diddle Arena, Nov. 6. The Hilltoppers beat the Panthers, 75-68. KATIE ROBERTS/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

The WKU men’s basketball team kicked off Conference USA play Sunday in Huntington, West Virginia on a sour note as the Marshall Thundering Herd defeated the Hilltoppers 94-76.

The early stages of the game proved that the Hilltoppers still have many problems on the defensive side of the basketball. Marshall exploited this key weakness as the Thundering Herd went on an 11-0 run in just over a minute’s time to stretch the lead to 24-12 in the first half.

WKU couldn’t seem to find a way to stop the Marshall attack in the first half. The Thundering Herd led at the half 49-33 as they shot 60 percent from the floor. The Hilltoppers haven’t allowed that many first half points since their loss to Belmont on November 18.

One key aspect of the first half which shifted the game into Marshall’s favor was the discrepancy in both team’s performances from behind the three-point line. The Thundering Herd managed to hit seven three-point baskets while WKU only hit two on 15 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Marshall came out of halftime with the same dominating play they put on display in the first half. WKU struggled on offense with the tough defense of the Thundering Herd all afternoon as Marshall forced the Hilltoppers to turn the ball over a season-high 20 times, leading to 39 points for the Thundering Herd.

One bright spot for WKU as a team on the afternoon was their overall performance from the field, as they shot 55 percent on the day. 

Sophomore forward Justin Johnson led the way for the Hilltoppers as he shot 11 of 13 from the floor and finished with 24 points, tying his career high. He also added five rebounds in his effort.

Freshman guard Chris McNeal played a solid game for the Hilltoppers, scoring seven points while also notching a team-high in rebounds with seven on the day. The freshman also dished out four assists compared with only two turnovers.

Junior forward Ben Lawson came away with nine points while shooting 80 percent from the floor. He also managed to block two shots as he came in to the contest ninth in the nation in total blocks. He has now blocked a shot in 19 consecutive games.

Junior guard Chris Harrison-Docks saw his first playing time since he was indefinitely suspended by the team a week ago. He managed to score one of WKU’s two three-pointers in the match up. 

The Hilltoppers dropped to 8-6 on the season and 0-1 in Conference USA play. WKU will be back in action in their Conference USA home opener on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. as they face off against Florida International.