WKU back in Frisco for NIT Quarterfinal

WKU basketball’s Charles Bassey (23) goes up for the block attempt against Old Dominion during their game on March 5, 2021.

Drew Toennies

After a restful week in Bowling Green following a thrilling 69-67 win over the Saint Mary’s Gaels, the Hilltoppers (21-7) are back in Frisco, Texas to compete against the LA Tech Bulldogs (22-7) in the quarterfinals of the NIT Tournament.

The last time the Hilltoppers faced off against the Bulldogs was this past January where the Hilltoppers took game one in the series with a 66-64 win. However, the Hilltoppers had a slow start in the second game between the two teams as they trailed LA Tech big early in the game and were not able to complete the comeback, falling 63-58 in the second meeting.

“We don’t want to get off on a bad start like we did the last game,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We got behind early in that second game. I think it was like 26-8. We got behind early and had to fight back the rest of the game.”

In the last meeting between the two teams, the Hilltoppers still had redshirt senior Carson Williams. However, Williams is pursuing his dream in playing professional football and as a result, will not be present in tomorrow night’s game.

“We’re a different team now without Carson,” Stansbury said. “We’ll miss his size, we’ll miss his ability to give us some good physical depth in there against those two or three big guys they’re going to throw at him, we’ll miss Carson’s physicality.”

With Williams being one of the more significant starters on WKU’s roster, the Hilltoppers are going to rely on the bench to provide more quality scoring opportunities.

“Carson’s a big physical guy that helps us,” Stansbury said. “Cozart’s gotta give us some minutes, Kevin’s gonna have to give us some more minutes. Those are two guys at the five and four that have to build ahead for us tomorrow night.”

The last time the Hilltoppers played the Bulldogs, redshirt senior Andrew Gordon was one of the Bulldogs more powerful offensive players, breaking his previous career high, but since January was absent from LA Tech’s starting lineup. However, Gordon returned to the Bulldogs starting lineup during the C-USA Tournament and will be playing in tomorrow night’s game.

“I think he had his career that weekend, Gordon going on to have 23 and 12 in both those two games,” Stansbury said. “I think after our game, or two games after, I don’t know what happened, but he didn’t play the rest of the season. I know they got him back in the conference tournament. Having him back helps them, because he’s another big body to throw at Charles.”

LA Tech freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. is a player who the Bulldogs will likely throw at WKU’s junior Charles Bassey to prevent him from scoring consistently.

“He’s gonna come in ready to play. I have to do what I do every game,” Bassey said. “I gotta come in tomorrow ready to play.”

Bassey is confident that the week of rest following the team’s lengthy first visit to Frisco will be beneficial in preparation for tomorrow night’s game.

“I mean it was good you know, that was a tough game,” Bassey said. “Everybody was still thinking about that game we lost you know, emotions and stuff. Going back and getting rest, everybody’s real fresh right now, so we’re ready to go.”

With the absence of Williams, Bassey said that the team needs to focus on stepping up and the team supports him all the way.

WKU sophomore Jordan Rawls communicated that the break was enormously helpful to him and his teammates in preparation for tomorrow’s matchup.

“I think we needed that break to get our minds right and to get our bodies well rested,” Rawls said. “You know in Frisco, we were playing three games in three days. So, you know just taking that time mentally and just getting ready for this NIT run.”

Rawls also reflected on the second game in the Hilltoppers conference series against the LA Tech Bulldogs and what the team struggled with in the second game.

“We just gotta come out to every game the same way,” Rawls said. “Come out and be mentally prepared. In the second game, we didn’t come out how we did in the first game and it hurt us.”

Rawls also discussed how the team has adjusted so far in the NIT Tournament and what they will need to do in tomorrow night’s game being without Williams.

“It wasn’t really that big of an adjustment,” Rawls said. “We just have to rebound more as a team, all the guards have to rebound, and we can push the pace faster, because we have Josh on the floor so that’s definitely an advantage for us.”

Rawls also talked about what the team is going to need to accomplish defensively against the Bulldogs this time around.

“I would say everybody just needs to do a good job of keeping their man out of the paint,” Rawls said. “Just take that challenge to stop your man from scoring.”

The Hilltoppers and the Bulldogs will tip off the NIT Tournament Quarterfinals tomorrow night at 9 p.m. in Frisco, Texas.

Sports reporter Drew Toennies at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.