MEN’s BASKETBALL: Toppers experience rough start

Danny Schoenbaechler

Darrin Horn knew that he inherited a tough early season schedule. He debuted as a head coach on Friday, and watched his Hilltoppers unravel in the second half and lose 86-64 at Auburn.

The Hilltoppers stayed close for most of the game, but their weaknesses were exposed, and that’s when the score got out of hand.

“We needed to play 40 minutes instead of 30,” Horn said.

Western (0-1) managed to out-rebound the Tigers 38-33, which has been a point of emphasis this preseason, but Auburn’s frontcourt torched the Toppers on the scoreboard.

Auburn’s top four frontcourt players combined for 55 points while Western’s top four scored a mere 23 points.

Senior Mike Wells said that it was very simple what Western did wrong on Friday.

“We didn’t match their intensity,” Wells said. “We gave them all their points.”

In his first game for the Toppers, Florida State transfer Nigel Dixon was plagued with foul trouble throughout the game.

He managed 11 points and six boards in just 16 minutes, but Western struggled to stop the Auburn big men without Dixon in the game.

Horn said that Dixon’s foul trouble wasn’t his team’s biggest problem.

“I felt like it had very little to do with it,” Horn said. “We needed to play tougher and more as a team.”

The Western front court also had problems compensating for a lackluster comeback by senior forward Todor Pandov.

In his first regular season game since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November, Pandov scored just four points and snatched zero rebounds.

Junior college transfer Antonio Haynes, the third Topper who sat out last year, sparked the Topper offense after the Tigers roared to an early 10-point lead.

Playing in his first Division I game, Haynes showed flashes of brilliance and also showed signs of inexperience.

His 15 points and six assists led the team and grabbing five rebounds was impressive for the smallest player on the court.

The down side to his debut was seven turnovers.

“Scoring is all right,” Haynes said. “But because of the turnovers I was kind of down on myself.”

Horn said that Haynes played well offensively but needs to improve on taking care of the ball.

The Toppers won’t have to wait long to show an improvement from the Auburn game.

Western will get back on the court tonight at 6:30 at Virginia Commonwealth.

“We need to come out and play hard,” Wells said. “It will be better if we stick to the game plan and execute.”

Haynes agreed that execution will be the key to Western getting to .500 before its home opener on Saturday.

Horn said there are two main issues that his team needs to improve on for tonight’s game.

“We need to make sure we play tough and very together as a team,” he said.

Western will host Mississippi State on Saturday in the first regular season game in newly renovated Diddle Arena.

The Toppers will also have their 38-game home winning streak on the line. It is the longest current streak in the nation and it could be in jeopardy as they play their second Southeastern Conference team in eight days.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]