Harper to bring new energy to WKU program starting with Saturday tilt against Troy

Newly appointed interim Head Coach Ray Harper discusses the dismissal of former WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald at a press conference in Diddle Arena’s Media Room on Friday. Harper said he is focused soley on Saturday’s game against Troy, which will mark his first official game as a Division-I head coach.

Cole Claybourn

For the first time in a while, Diddle Arena might have a feeling of excitement in it when WKU takes on Troy at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Even with a $1 ticket promotion still in effect, as well free admission being offered to fans who bring in certain donation items to, plenty of people were lining up to pay for tickets once news broke that Ken McDonald was fired as Head Coach and would be replaced in the interim by assistant Ray Harper.

“We’re excited to see what might happen under his direction. I think we’ll see some new energy,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork said. “We’ve already had a buzz in our ticket office of people calling to request tickets for (Saturday’s) game and the rest of the season.

“I think we’re going to see our fans and our players respond in a positive way. We are not giving up on this season.”

It’s evident on message boards and social media that fans are coming out of the woodwork now that a change has been made.

Bjork said Friday that WKU needed to be restored to its great tradition of winning — that the state of the program under McDonald was simply unacceptable.

Some fans thanked Bjork on Twitter for doing “the right thing” for the program, expressing their hopes of seeing WKU return to its ways of winning Sun Belt Conference championships and advancing in the NCAA Tournament.

The first step toward that goal starts Saturday against a struggling 5-9 Troy team that is 0-3 in conference play.

With 56 days now until the Sun Belt Tournament and 13 more conference games to play, Harper, like Bjork, said this season is still salvageable.

But the first priority is a win against Troy, he said.

“That’s got to be our primary focus,” Harper said. “It’s the most important game on our scheduled because it’s our next game. That’s how we’ll approach the next 13.”

Both teams come in to the contest with five wins apiece, but Troy holds the edge on paper, and even in Vegas as they come in as four-point favorites.

The Trojans are outscoring WKU by an average of 11 points per game and are shooting better from the field with a 40 percent average to WKU’s 38 percent.

WKU will also have to take care of the ball better to beat Troy. The Toppers are averaging 16.8 turnovers a game, the highest in the conference.

But all of those low stats are part of the reason a change was made. 

And Harper indicated that the team’s style of play would change under him too.

“Any time there’s a change, there’s going to be some changes,” he said. “I mean, no two people are alike, no two coaches are alike. Only thing I’ve ever asked of any team I’ve ever been associated with is compete, play hard and let the chips fall where they may.”