MEN’S BASKETBALL: Toppers successful in home games

Jay Lively

Nigel Dixon and Mike Wells clobbered Division II West Virginia Tech 96-48 Sunday at Diddle Arena as Western climbed above the .500 mark for the first time this season.

As Topper fans taunted the opposing team with chants of “You can’t stop him,” Dixon manhandled a much smaller Golden Bear frontcourt scoring 24 points and collecting 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season.

West Virginia Tech’s only recourse was to foul the senior center who put up big numbers despite going 8-18 from the foul line and playing just 20 minutes.

“We just wanted to go out and get a lead going and give some other players the opportunity to play,” Dixon said. “It was a good night for the people that play a lot of minutes (to) rest up.”

Wells was the only other starter to hit double digits scoring 21 points with just one turnover in 19 minutes of action.

After going into halftime with a 45-31 lead, the Toppers came out of the locker room with a full court press – forcing three turnovers in the first 40 seconds of the second half.

A smothering defense led to plenty of offense as Western went on a 20-0 run capped by mid-season walk-on Teco Dickerson’s 3-pointer with 14:55 left. That pushed the Western lead to 70-37.

With a commanding lead coach Darrin Horn began emptying the bench with more than 13 minutes left in the game.

Led by Dickerson, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore guard Danny Rumph, the reserves not only maintained the lead but extended a 35 point lead to 49 in the final minute.

“Teco Dickerson has an unbelievable attitude and he brings great effort every single day,” Horn said. “Athletically he’s better than your average walk-on. I think he’s a reason we’ve started to improve because he really brings a lot to us in practice with his defensive intensity.”

Rumph handed out nine assists, with one turnover, and scored nine points after taking over the reins at point guard as junior guard Antonio Haynes sat out most of the game with a minor bout of the flu.

Reserves Nick Hill, Josh Higgins and Kalin Holland all played considerable minutes with Hill contributing nine points and four rebounds.

Western held West Virginia Tech (9-11) to 20.0 percent shooting in the second half and 28.3 on the night.

Western beats MTSU

Western fended off a late comeback by rival Middle Tennessee State (12-9 4-4) Thursday winning 70-66 in conference play.

The win put the Toppers in a tie for first place after Arkansas-Little Rock (12-10, 5-4) lost in double overtime Saturday to New Orleans.

Down 31-28 at the break, Mike Wells made a quick 3-pointer out of the locker room to tie the score, and the Toppers didn’t trail again.

A 7-0 run midway through the second half set the tone as Western built a 13-point lead after Wells made two free throws with 8:45 left in the game.

But the Blue Raiders worked to stay in the game.

Chipping away at the Topper lead with tough defense, MTSU closed the gap to 65-62 after senior guard Tommy Gunn sank a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left.

Western made four of six foul shots in the final 13 seconds to come away with the win.

Horn said he was disappointed that his team was unable to deliver a knock-out punch after building a sizable lead.

“We still have to find a way to have 40 minutes of focus and good decision making,” Horn said. “(That) can really help us get over the hump and push ahead when you’re at home with the crowd behind you.”

Nevertheless, he was pleased his team came away with an important conference win.

“Anytime you can come out on top in a dog fight or a war – which this was tonight with two teams playing very physical and very hard – it breeds confidence in your team and is something you can build on down the stretch,” he said

In the two games, the Toppers shot just 52.6 percent from the free throw line going 40-76. Removing Dixon from the equation, who has gone 11-31 during that stretch, leaves Western shooting 64.4 percent.

“We work on it all the time,” Horn said. “Guys just have to step up to the line and make shots, especially the ones who are expected to make them.”

The road to a fourth consecutive East Division title won’t be easy for Western who plays four of its next five games on the road. They travel to Denver on Thursday before returning home to face North Texas on Saturday. Both games will tip-off at 7 p.m.

Pandov off the court

Western played both games without senior forward Todor Pandov who suffered a facial fracture in Wednesday’s practice when he collided with Dixon.

“It was just guys banging around in a rebounding drill and really getting after it,” Horn said. “When a guy is that strong and you catch something inadvertently like that, there’s potential for damage.”

Horn said Pandov’s versatility and shooting range keeps other teams honest and makes it difficult for them to double-team Dixon and other players.

“Obviously we miss the depth that he provides at that position,” he said. “We really miss his skill level.”

Freshman forward Ryan Lambert collected eight points and nine rebounds against Middle Tennessee to offset the loss of Pandov.

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