MEN’S HOOPS: Wells, defense key against New Orleans

Danny Schoenbaechler

Mike Wells has positioned himself as one of the top defenders in the Sun Belt Conference.

After holding Arkansas State’s Tevoris Thompson 17 points below his average on Saturday, tonight Wells will set his sights on New Orleans guard Johnell Smith.

“I get the assignment to guard him,” Wells said. “I just need to come out and play hard like I have been doing the past couple of games.”

Smith is a 6-foot-1 guard averaging 15.9 points per game.

“I take a lot of pride in my defense, because if I’m having a bad offensive game I know my defense will step up,” Wells said.

Western (9-6 overall, 2-1 Sun Belt) coach Dennis Felton praised Wells’ defensive abilities.

“He is our best perimeter defender,” Felton said. “And he is not only our best, but he is the best in the conference.”

Wells is not the only member of Western’s team that will be faced with a tough defensive match-up. Seniors David Boyden and Nate Williams will share defensive duties against New Orleans forward Hector Romero.

Romero is a prolific scorer and rebounder, averaging 20 points and almost 10 rebounds a contest.

“Basically, we need to play a lot of team defense,” Boyden said. “Hopefully we won’t have to resort to double-teaming him. It’s going to be fun.”

Romero has scored in double figures in 42 straight games, and Felton said that he has a lot to do with why New Orleans (9-5, 2-1) leads the conference in 3-point shooting.

“He is so difficult to guard that most teams have found a need to commit more than one defender to him,” Felton said. “And when you do that it makes it easier for their shooters to get good looks. They do have some good shooters, but a big reason they are so efficient is because of Romero.”

New Orleans is out-rebounding teams by almost five a game, which concerns the Toppers.

“Rebounding always concerns me,” Felton said. “They are a good rebounding team, and a big part of it is Romero.”

Boyden said that rebounding is something his team emphasizes.

“Rebounding is one of our priorities,” he said. “It is our goal every game to out-rebound the other team.”

Tonight’s game will end a seven-game road trip and be the Toppers’ first home game in 28 days.

“We’re looking forward to being back around our fans and being in a charged environment,” Felton said. “I hope our fans are as fired up about this game as we are.”

Wells also emphasized the importance of the home crowd.

“It means a lot when we have our crowd support,” Wells said. “We really appreciate having our own fans around.”

The game is in Diddle Arena at 7 p.m., as the Toppers look to put some distance in the standings between themselves and the rest of the conference.

“We are in first place in the conference and in our division,” Felton said. “We are right where we need to be. We’ve played outstanding basketball for a good portion of this year, we just haven’t been very consistent.”

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]