Tops face familiar foe Marshall this weekend

WKU sophomore forward Ben Lawson slams the ball home against Conference USA opponent Rice Feb. 7, 2015 at E.A. Diddle Arena. The Hilltoppers would go on to lose to the Owls 72-68 in only their third home loss of the season. (Luke Franke/Herald)

Billy Rutledge

The WKU basketball team (16-7, 9-2 C-USA) is coming off the team’s first home loss since Dec. 20, so this weekend’s away contest against familiar foe Marshall isn’t the worst scenario for the Hilltoppers who sit 4-4 on the road.

The Marshall Thundering Herd (8-16, 4-17 C-USA) sit in tenth place in Conference USA, but have found some success late in their conference slate, winning four of their last five games after starting conference play off 0-6.

Redshirt sophomore forward and NBA prospect Ryan Taylor will be looking for revenge against WKU, coming in averaging a team-high 15 points per game, 8.8 rebound per game, and 19 blocks on the season.

Taylor scored 15 points and was one of three players to score double digit points the last time these two teams met. The contest ended in an 81-62 victory for the Hilltoppers and marked the first win in Conference USA in program history.

WKU’s defense frustrated the Herd on Jan. 4, holding them to 25.8 percent shooting in the second half and 21.7 percent (5-23) from beyond the arc for the game.

The trio of seniors guard T.J. Price, forward George Fant and freshman guard DJ Clayton led WKU to victory in the previous matchup. The three combined for 54 of WKU’s 81 points against the Herd, including Clayton’s career-high in points of 15 all coming in the first half.

The game marked the third time the Hilltoppers have reached over 80 points in a game, a mark that has only been reproduced twice since.

Recently, the Hilltoppers have relied on the play of sophomore forward Ben Lawson. Consistently the first player off the bench under Head Coach Ray Harper, Lawson has been a defensive force after recording six blocks against UTSA earlier this season, which marked the most in one game for a Hilltopper since 2011.

Lawson proved to be a difference-maker in the team’s loss versus Rice, scoring eight points off the bench while hauling in four rebounds and five blocks. Lawson energized the Hilltoppers, late with a pair of dunks and an alley-oop slam to give WKU a four-point lead with 1:17 remaining.

“He’s huge. He’s getting better and better,” Harper said after the game. “He doesn’t understand how good he can be. I think he’s starting to say, ‘you might be right.’”

WKU will travel to Huntington, West Virginia to face Marshall on Saturday, Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m. central time.