Hilltoppers start with Campbellsville this Saturday in Diddle

With a hand in his face, Western Kentucky’s Chris Harrison-Docks (51) hits a 3-pointer past Kentucky Wesleyan’s Jordan Jacks’ (5) defense during Friday’s game at E.A. Diddle Arena. The Hilltoppers won the homecoming game 75-68. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

Ray Harper is entering his fourth full season as the men’s head basketball coach. 

Coming off three consecutive 20-win seasons, Harper is looking to improve on that trend.

Saturday night in Diddle Arena, the Hilltoppers will play the first game of the regular season against Campbellsville University. 

The new-look Hilltoppers are ready to get things underway but have heeded the warning of their head coach, who has preached patience while molding a team full of so many new faces. 

“This is a team with a lot of new guys. It’s a work in progress,” Harper said. “But you are going to get better if you got guys like we have that are willing to be coached and continue to work.”

WKU leads the series 4-0 against the Tigers. The two teams last met in 2008, when the Tops walked away with a 62-48 victory.

Harper and the squad also bring an unblemished preseason record as they won both of their preseason exhibition matches with wins over Lindsey Wilson and Kentucky Wesleyan.

The Tigers are the No. 18 team in NAIA basketball. With an already solid 4-0 record, including wins against the NAIA preseason No.1 team and No. 6 team, Campbellsville will test the Hilltoppers.

With a new addition at the forward spot, the Tigers are ready for a shot at a Division I team and a chance to play well on a national stage. Their senior forward, 6-foot-5 Roderick Lawrence, is a transfer from the SEC’s Mississippi. 

Senior guard Sekou Harris, averaging 20.8 points per game, has had a strong start to the 2015-2016 season.

Campbellsville is a guard-heavy team similar to WKU. 

Coach Harper has said this season that the backcourt for the Toppers would probably be the strength of the team. 

Therefore, Saturday’s contest should be a good matchup because neither team has put major emphasis on its larger athletes so far in the season.

“I still think Ben [Lawson] can be more of a force at the rim-blocking shots,” Harper said. “He turns his body sideways instead of getting numbers in front, making the guy score over him.”

Harper is hoping Lawson’s  progression as both an athlete and a leader, paired with his style of play on defense, will allow Lawson to hold a particular role in the squad this season. 

“You have to have a rim protector at this level,” Harper said. “And that’s who he’s got to be.”

Harper is 1-2 in his career on the Hill in season openers but is 3-0 in openers at home.

Catch the Hilltoppers in action this weekend in Diddle Arena on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in their season opener.