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WKU mens basketball to face Marquette in first round of NCAA tournament

Eli Randolph
Guard Don McHenry (2) drive the lane during WKU’s game against LA Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

For the first time since 2013, WKU mens basketball is going dancing.

Selection Sunday has come and gone, and with it, the announcement of the Hilltoppers first-round opponent. On Friday the No. 15 Hilltoppers will face No 2. Marquette in Indianapolis.

After pulling out their first Conference-USA Tournament win over the University of Texas El Paso, the Hilltoppers will hit the road to compete in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade. 

The road was not easy for WKU. 

In an opening-round thriller, the No. 3 Hilltoppers defeated No. 6 New Mexico State thanks to the efforts of All Conference-USA Tournament recipient Rodney Howard. Howard’s 20-point, five-rebound and three-block performance propelled WKU over the Aggies in a dominant fashion, securing a 20-point victory.

Before the Hilltoppers even took the floor for the first time during the tournament, No. 2 Louisiana Tech had already fallen to No. 7 Middle Tennessee in a classic David versus Goliath story, slating the Blue Raiders to take on the Hilltoppers for a trip to the Conference Championship on the line.

The Cinderella story ended early for MSTU, as the Hilltoppers defeated the Blue Raiders. An 18-point and four-rebound performance from WKU’s Don McHenry punched the Hilltoppers’ ticket to play on Saturday.

Even though the fairytale story ended early for the Blue Raiders, there was no shortage of surprises on the other side of the bracket. In a shock upset, the No. 5 University of Texas El-Paso Miners slain the No. 1 Sam Houston State, securing their championship run.

In the finale, the Hilltoppers edged out the Miners, thanks to McHenry’s 25 points, five rebounds, and four steals, securing a trip to Indy for WKU.

While recent history hasn’t been too kind, the Hilltoppers aren’t unfamiliar with the NCAA tournament. 

In 2008, No. 12 WKU made their mark with a Sweet Sixteen run, with wins against No. 5 Drake and No. 13 San Diego.

The following season, No. 12 WKU upset No. 5 Illinois in the Round of 64 against No. 5 Illinois, before falling to No. 4 Gonzaga.

With a Final Four appearance in 1971, an Elite Eight run in 1940, and six more appearances in the Sweet Sixteen on their resume, the Hilltoppers are looking to bring their history into their first round matchup.

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