MEN’S BASKETBALL: Tops look to protect streak

Jay Lively

After dropping its first two Sun Belt Conference games on the road, Western will return to Diddle Arena where they have won 30 consecutive league games.

The win streak dates back to Jan. 29, 2000 when the Hilltoppers (5-8, 0-2 Sun Belt) lost 86-77 at home to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Western will put that streak on the line tonight when they host Arkansas-Little Rock (8-6, 2-0) who will try to break a 10-game drought against the Toppers.

Coach Darrin Horn said the Trojans will be a good test for his team.

“They’re 2-0 in conference play and they beat Arkansas State,” Horn said. “They’re a good defensive team and very good athletically.”

In fact, the Trojans scoring defense is first in the league allowing only 64.6 points per game keeping their opponents to 40.5 percent shooting. Something will have to give as the Toppers lead the league in offense at 78.2 points a contest.

Like Western, Arkansas-Little Rock has a balanced offensive attack with three players averaging double figures led by junior guard Brandon Freeman at 11.6 points per game. Freeman was named Sun Belt Player of the Week on Monday scoring 21 points against Florida International and 30 against Arkansas State.

The Trojans will be without pre-season second team all-conference guard Nick Zachery, their leading scorer, who left the team at the end of December due to “family issues.”

Senior guard Mike Wells said the team is not dwelling on its first two conference losses but is focusing on their first conference home-game of the season.

“The only thing we’re worried about is this next game against Arkansas-Little Rock,” Wells said. “And then after that we’ll worry about the next one.”

That next game will be Saturday against Arkansas State (11-3, 2-1), who boasts the league’s best overall record and who Western hopes to avenge a 79-76 loss in its conference opener.

The Indians will bring the league’s top two scorers in Dewarick Spencer (19.0) and J.J. Montgomery (18.7), which could pose a problem for the Toppers’ defense which gives up a league-worst 75.5 points a game for the season.

Junior point guard Antonio Haynes said the team has spent a lot of time working on defense during practice.

“Defense was a big part our four-game winning streak,” Haynes said. “We just have to take that same mentality into the second half of the season. We’ll have to play hard and play smart to get the win.”

The Toppers have lost more conference games than they did all of last season, but that doesn’t have sophomore guard Anthony Winchester too

worried.

“Any conference game is going to be tough this year,” Winchester said. “We just have to come out and play our game and come away with a win.

“We lost two in a row because we went back to the way we were playing at the beginning of the season. If we can get these next two games under our belt we’ll be back on track. We still have a long season ahead of us.”

Tip-off for tonight’s game against Arkansas-Little Rock will be at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s game against Arkansas State will also begin at 7 p.m. Both games will be played in Diddle Arena.

Reach Jay Lively at [email protected]