MEN’S BASKETBALL: Men clinch east division title

Danny Schoenbaechler

Western may have ventured into Cajun country last night, but it proved it is hotter than anything Louisiana-Lafayette could serve up.

The Hilltoppers trailed by seven at halftime but stormed back for a 69-66 win. The victory clinched sole possession of the Sun Belt Conference East Division championship for the Toppers.

“It was a terrific win for us,” head coach Dennis Felton said. “We’re just as proud of this as we can be. I’ve probably never been as proud as I am of this team and these accomplishments.”

Lafayette won the Western division of the Sun Belt, but it could not hold off a Hilltopper team that has won seven straight games. The loss snapped the Ragin’ Cajuns 21-game home winning streak.

Western (20-8 overall, 12-2 Sun Belt) lead 61-58 with two minutes left when sophomore guard Patrick Sparks made the play of the game.

With five seconds left on the shot-clock, he came off a pick at the top of the key and hit a three-pointer.

It was the Toppers only three-point attempt of the second half.

“That three put us in total control of the game,” Felton said. “In the second half, we got more focused on taking the ball to the goal.”

Western struggled to score in the first half but hung in the game by dominating the glass. A 43-30 rebounding advantage proved to be vital for the Toppers.

“Rebounding is the most important thing in basketball, I think,” junior guard Mike Wells said. “That was a hard team to play at this time. It was wild. I have never seen that many people behind a goal in my life.”

Wells scored 19 points, including two free-throws with 23.2 seconds left, to put the Toppers up 66-61. Senior forward David Boyden led both teams with 20 points.

Lafayette’s star center Michael Southall was hampered throughout the game with foul trouble. He drew his fourth foul with 12 minutes, 50 seconds remaining while his squad was up 46-42.

Western then went on a decisive 12-2 run to take control. Southall later fouled out after a lackluster six points and five rebounds.

The Toppers will play Middle Tennessee State at 3 p.m. Saturday, Senior Night, in Diddle Arena. Western will try to protect its 35-game home winning streak as seniors Boyden, Nate Williams and Filip Videnov are honored.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]