Topper trio playing final games in Diddle

Jay Lively

For three Western basketball players, the glory days of college roundball are nearing an end.

Gone will be the days of road trips with catered buffets, rowdy student sections, teammates that are like family and all the other nuances that will be looked back upon with nostalgia.

Most of all they’ll soon be stepping off the hardwood for the last time as Hilltoppers.

But the trio of seniors have plans to postpone their departure a little longer as Western gears up for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

“We’re going to come out fired up,” senior guard Mike Wells said. “I want to win this tournament. It would be my fourth (championship) in a row. Nobody’s done that yet.”

While Wells is thinking dynasty, senior Nigel Dixon will be playing for his first collegiate championship and his first trip to the NCAA tournament.

Dixon has been a tour de force in the Sun Belt while dominating in the paint and leading the nation in field goal percentage at 67.3 percent. After transferring from Florida State he has exceeded expectations in his only year at Western by averaging a double-double with 16 points and a league-leading 10.3 rebounds a contest.

“I want to keep playing as long as I can,” Dixon said. “Every game is going to be a fierce game. It’s just going to be a battle. You have to go in there with the attitude that you’re going to put it all on the line because if you don’t you could be going home early.”

Home, however, is exactly where Western will be staying – win or lose – as the tournament will go through Bowling Green for the second consecutive year.

With five of Western’s six conference losses coming on the road it is an advantage that can’t be overstated.

“We’re in Diddle and we feed off the crowd like no other,” said Wells, who averages 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds on the season. “If we don’t win on our home floor we take that personally.”

Wells will end his career among the top 20 on Western’s all-time scoring list finishing with 1,226 points at the end of the regular season.

“It’s not just what he’s done this year but what he’s done for this program,” Horn said. “He’s has incredible amount of wins (91) and really is the kind of guy you want to coach, because he just comes every day and does his job and competes and plays with a great deal of energy and intensity. That’s something that’s immeasurable.”

For senior forward Todor Pandov, the postseason will provide an opportunity for atonement after an injury-plagued year that limited his playing time.

“It’s always going to be frustrating when you get hurt and have to sit out games,” he said. “But we’ve been successful through my career here with lots of wins and championships. I’m going to have a hard time leaving this place – it would be great to leave as a winner.”

Horn said Pandov is as healthy as he has been this season following a 25-minute performance against Florida International Saturday.

“He’s been around the block,” Horn said. “We’re going to need his experience and his depth.”

Horn credits senior leadership as a primary reason for the season changing directions after an 0-5 start.

“We have three seniors that have kind of been there and done that,” Horn said. “I think that’s crucial for our team as we head into the tournament. They’re experienced and mature and they’re very hungry now that it’s their turn.”

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