MEN’S BASKETBALL: Tops win final non-conference game

Jay Lively

Behind senior center Nigel Dixon, and a 20-0 second-half spurt, Western won on the road Saturday with a convincing 87-66 thumping of Marshall.

The game was part of ESPN’s Bracket Buster Saturday.

The win came on the heels of a disappointing conference loss to Arkansas-Little Rock Thursday which knocked the surging Hilltoppers out of first place in the Sun Belt East division.

But Western (14-11, 7-5 Sun Belt) responded in their final non-conference game with Dixon posting career-highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds against the Thundering Herd, whose defensive scheme backfired miserably.

“It was one of those games where they didn’t double-team me in the paint,” Dixon said. “I was able to get good position, put the ball in the basket and rebound well.”

Western was down 41-40 at the break, but a stifling second half defense accompanied by some potent offense was too much for Marshall (9-14), who scored just 25 points the rest of the way.

Three other Toppers contributed 16 or more points in the contest, including junior guard Antonio Haynes, who had 17 points and a game-high six assists while committing just one turnover.

“As a team and as one family we came together and played the basketball we know how to play,” Haynes said. “It gives us a lot of confidence to know we can go on the road and beat a good team like Marshall by 20 points.”

Senior guard Mike Wells and sophomore guard Anthony Winchester added 16 points a piece, with Wells dishing out five assists while Winchester went 4-6 from behind the arc.

Western received some quality minutes from senior forward Todor Pandov, who has been sidelined much of the season with injuries. Pandov’s return to the line-up is a welcome addition as the team gears up for post-season play.

Western now sits second in the Sun Belt East after Thursday’s road loss to Arkansas-Little Rock (15-10, 8-4) put the Trojans ahead in the standings.

It was a game of spurts for both teams, but Little Rock had one too many as they pulled away with a 10-0 run midway through the second half. Western had pulled to within seven after Winchester made three free throws but the Toppers went scoreless in the next five minutes as Little Rock extended its lead to 17, putting the game out of reach.

During that stretch, Western turned the ball over on three consecutive trips down the floor with Little Rock capitalizing each time.

“We had so many mental mistakes that it cost us the game,” said Dixon, who scored just eight points. “From the defensive end to the offensive end it was just one of those games we came out flat and had too many breakdowns.”

Wells and Haynes led the Toppers with 15 points each while Haynes committed no turnovers from the point position.

Both teams have two conference games remaining, but the Trojans will travel to New Mexico State and Louisiana-Lafayette while the Toppers play Thursday at Middle Tennessee before finishing the regular season at home against Florida International.

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