MEN’S BASKETBALL: Trotters drop Tops in first exhibition

J. Michael Moore

It had all the makings of a regular season game.

There was electricity in the air in revitalized Diddle Arena on opening night, with pictures of the recent past ushering in a new era of Hilltopper basketball.

Video boards shot memories of last season’s success across the refurbished floor.

The highlights started with the victory over Kentucky and ended with Patrick Sparks’ last-second shot in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, which gave Western a narrow victory over New Mexico State.

Afterward the highlight reel, members of last year’s squad got their conference championship rings. But with 7-footer Chris Marcus wearing a suit instead of a uniform, this year’s edition of the Toppers fell short in their first game of the 2002-03 season, losing 69-54 to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Western head coach Dennis Felton didn’t dwell on the negative after seeing his team shoot a miserable 29 percent from the floor and commit 20 turnovers.

“I’m actually relieved with the way we played,” Felton said. “I came into this game really uptight and worried that we weren’t playing with the defensive intensity and rebounding aggression that we needed to be successful.”

Defense and rebounding kept the Hilltoppers in the contest, which quickly became a battle of wits in a night of poor shooting.

The Globetrotters hit less than 35 percent from the field. It was the first time in this year’s college tour they have been kept under 50 percent.

But steady effort and a greater presence on the boards allowed the Globetrotters to add another victory to their historic total and get revenge on the Hilltoppers – the only team to defeat them in last year’s preseason schedule.

“Obviously that was a big incentive for us,” Globetrotter head coach Milton Barnes said. “We wanted to come out and play well, but get a little pay back as well.”

Topper guard Mike Wells said the Globetrotters’ motivation was evident, but talking between the players was kept to a minimum.

“We just had a poor shooting night,” Wells said. “Everyone just acted like young men. They were just telling us about the game, that’s all.”

The Toppers led early in the game, but later fell victim to experience.

The Globetrotters boast a roster filled with recognizable names, including Cedric Ceballos and Alex Sanders, who scored 14 points each.

Ceballos, a former NBA talent, led all players with 11 rebounds.

Western’s Todor Pandov led all scorers with 20 points. No other Hilltopper scored in double figures.

“I’ve always talked about (Pandov) learning the game and knowing how to use his talent to be efficient,” Felton said. “He needed to learn how to play under control and make a lot more positive plays than negative plays. I thought he was the epitome of control tonight.”

Patrick Sparks was held to 3-of-15 shooting for 7 points. David Boyden was kept in an even stronger check, attempting only two shots.

Freshman Anthony Winchester started the game in place of Filip Videnov. He scored only two points but finished second on the team with six rebounds.

Overall, Felton was pleased with the rebounding effort and his team’s ability to stay in the game. But the Globetrotters kept the Toppers from working the ball inside for most of the night.

“As hard as it was for us to make a shot, we were in the game all night because we were defending tough and because we were rebounding tough,” Felton said. “But when the game was on its pivot, where it could have been won or lost, we gave them second shots.

“If we didn’t do the job we did on the offensive glass, it could have been a whole lot worse.”

The Hilltoppers will be back in action at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Universal All-Stars in Diddle Arena.

They open the regular season Nov. 23 at Arizona.

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]