MEN’S BASKETBALL: Tops take on MTSU tonight

Jay Lively

Western’s men’s basketball team will look to separate itself from a muddled Sun Belt Conference East Division tonight as it hosts rival Middle Tennessee State.

With less than a month to go in the regular season, and more than halfway through their conference schedule, there are still four teams, including the Toppers and the Blue Raiders, that have a legitimate shot at winning the East and receiving a top seed in the conference tournament.

“I think we’re going to find out a lot about our team (tonight) in terms of how we step up and do the things we need to do to play in a big game,” coach Darrin Horn said. “It’s a game that has great meaning in terms of seeding and still having a chance to win the division title.”

MTSU (11-8, 3-3 Sun Belt) is one of Western’s biggest rivals, having played each other 105 times, second only to Eastern Kentucky and Murray State. The Toppers beat the Blue Raiders three times last year, including a 64-52 win in the conference championship game at Diddle Arena.

MTSU is perfect on the road in conference action but dropped its second consecutive home game Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Blue Raiders did, however, allow only 74 points, in contrast to the Toppers’ giving up 110 against the Ragin’ Cajuns last week.

“I think they’re a very strong defensive team and the fact that there’s a lot on the line means we’re going to expect a best effort from them,” Horn said.

The Blue Raiders boast one of the best back courts in the Sun Belt with Tommy Gunn and Mike Dean. The two are third and fourth in conference scoring, averaging 17.3 and 16.1 points respectively. Mike Wells and Nigel Dixon follow in order at fifth and sixth, averaging 15.5 and 15.3 points.

“They’ve got a solid core with a great player in Tommy Gunn, who is a force, and another really good guard in Dean who is putting up numbers,” Horn said.

After struggling a bit on the offensive end in January, sophomore guard Anthony Winchester has been putting up big numbers of late as well, boosting his season average to 15 points after averaging 24 last week.

“I know they have Gunn, and he’s a great player,” Winchester said. “But overall it’s going to be a great game because it’s a great rivalry between us and them. We just have to get this win at home and then we play them (in Murfreesboro), which will be tough.”

Western (9-10, 4-4) will host West Virginia Tech on Sunday in its final non-conference home game. Tech (7-10, 3-6 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) is currently on a three-game winning streak. They are led by senior guard Philip Godfrey, who is averaging 20.9 points a contest. Tip-off for both games is 7 p.m.

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