COLUMN: 5-on-5: Just something else Topper fans can’t take for granted

WKU senior guard Kahlil McDonald shoots a lay-up against Louisiana-Lafayette during the basketball game at E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday. Louisiana-Lafayette won the game in overtime with a final score of 72-70.

Brad Stephens

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Rule 10, Section 2, Article 6 of the NCAA

Basketball Rulebook is an entry easily taken for granted.

“A team shall not have more than five players

legally on the playing court to participate after the ball becomes


Basketball, for as long as any living person

can remember, has involved one team of five players taking on

another team of five players.

Except for the last 21 seconds between WKU and

Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday night.

The Ragin’ Cajuns inbounded the ball with six

players on the court to the Toppers’ five.

And no one on the court did anything about


Head Coach Ken McDonald admitted to not seeing

the sixth man until he heard an assistant mention it.

ULL’s coaches, even if they noticed their

extra man, certainly weren’t going to say anything once the play

started and risk being called for a technical foul.

And the officials, Roger Ayers, Reinaldo

Acosta and Brad Gaston, assumed all was normal.

Ragin’ Cajun guard Elfrid Payton, after almost

being called for a five-second violation and almost losing the ball

out of bounds, cut through to the basket and hit the game-winning

layup with three seconds to play.

A tooth-and-nail college basketball game with

big Sun Belt Conference implications had just been decided on a

final play in which the winning team had an extra player on the


It was a mathematically-deficient ending

reminiscent of King Arthur in the 1970s comedy classic Monty

Python and the Holy Grail.

Late in the movie, with his quest for the

grail coming to a head, Arthur prepares to lob the “Holy Hand

Grenade of Antioch” at the feared “Killer Rabbit.”

But he forgets to count to the number “three,”

the number at which he is commanded to count to before throwing the


Luckily, one of his knights aids the king’s

counting by telling him “three,” the grenade is thrown and the

rabbit was destroyed.

If one of the officials from Thursday’s game

had been standing next to King Arthur in place of the knight, the

grenade might have blown up in the king’s hand.

Never again will WKU fans take the number of

players on the court for granted.

But that’s just one of several facts of Topper

basketball life fans can no longer take for granted.

Fans used to be able to count on a regionally,

if not nationally, competitive team.

WKU has won 43 conference championships, third

only to Kansas and Kentucky in NCAA history.

The Toppers also boast a heritage that

includes one of basketball’s all-time greatest coaches, Ed Diddle,

and a run to the 1971 Final Four.

But WKU is 5-11 this season.

Said freshman guard Derrick Gordon of the

team’s record after Thursday’s loss, “that’s just not good.”

And coming off two straight years of no

postseason play for the Toppers, lifetime WKU supporters can no

longer take for granted the place of men’s basketball as “the

sport” on the Hill.

That title may be instead be swinging over to

Smith Stadium, where Willie Taggart’s football Toppers recently

ended a 7-5 campaign that brought WKU within a few

out-of-their-control phone calls and NCAA decisions from a Football

Bowl Subdivision bowl game.

As the football Toppers kept winning, fans got

more excited, and the program’s momentum grew.

Meanwhile the basketball Toppers have largely

been treated with a “ho-hum” feeling from fans this year.

WKU, the same team that once drew 14,277

people to a Feb. 27, 1971 home game against Murray State, drew a

crowd of 2,137 Thursday.

That was on a night where tickets were being

sold at various local businesses for $1.

The attendance figure reasonably would’ve been

even lower were it not for the promotion.

The Toppers’ men’s basketball program can no

longer take winning records, No. 1 on-campus status and good

attendance for granted.

Those are the reasons McDonald cannot take his

current job for granted.

His WKU squad will lace ‘em back up at 4 p.m.

Saturday against Troy.

Going by the numbers, it’s a game the Toppers

should win.

And, if swirling rumors are true, that win

would be in the best interests of McDonald’s future coaching


WKU is 6-0 all-time against the Trojans in

Diddle Arena, and Troy isn’t especially great this year, currently

0-3 in the conference.

In years past Topper fans may have chalked

this one up as a win before the teams took the floor.

But that would be taking this game for


And WKU fans can’t afford to take much for

granted anymore.