GAME NOTES: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will open up a season-long four- game homestand at E.A. Diddle Arena on Wednesday night, as they square off against the surging Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
USM has been excellent through the first six weeks of the season. It has opened up 9-1, with its only loss coming on the road against nationally-ranked Louisville on Nov. 29, 69-38. Since that setback, the Golden Eagles have reeled off three straight victories, most recently downing St. Catharine College on Saturday, 96-60.
WKU has something in common with USM, as it also dropped a road test at Louisville, falling 79-63 on Saturday afternoon. The Hilltoppers have been up- and-down of late, having alternated wins with losses over the past six games, although they have certainly enjoyed their home cooking, as they have won all four games at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Hilltoppers have beaten USM in three out of four all-time meetings, although the Golden Eagles claimed a 67-64 overtime victory in Hattiesburg on Nov. 10, 2012.
The Golden Eagles did what was expected of them against Division III St. Catharine College, as they shot a lofty 58.7 percent from the field and forced a whopping 29 turnovers on their way to the 36-point victory. Daveon Boardingham played only 20 minutes off the bench but he made the most it, shooting 9-of-11 from the field en route to a career-high 23 points. Matt Bingaya was also stellar in a reserve role with 17 points, while Chip Armelin tallied 13 points and five steals.
The dominating effort only helped USM's impressive year-to-date statistics. It shoots 46.7 percent from the field for 72.7 points per game, 11 points more than it allows, while also forcing four more turnovers per outing than it commits. Although no one scores more than Boardingham's 11.3 points per game, the team has a deep bench with 10 players scoring at least 3.2 points per tilt. Neil Watson (11.2 ppg) has more than twice as many assists (36) as turnovers (16), and Aaron Brown brings 10.7 points per game to the table on nearly 42 percent 3-point shooting.
WKU had its hands full against Louisville over the weekend, and while it only trailed by three points at intermission, it shot just 36.4 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from the free-throw line on the afternoon as it eventually fell by 16 points. T.J. Price was stellar in spite of the setback, shooting 8-of-16 from the floor (including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc) for 22 points. Chris Harrison-Docks was the only other player in double figures, scoring 10 points off the bench in his season debut.
Offense has been scarce for the Hilltoppers this season, as they shoot a lousy 38.7 percent from the field for 63.6 points per game, but luckily they are able to remain competitive thanks to their strong scoring defense (64.2 ppg). Price is the go-to option, scoring 16.3 points per game, while shooting 25- of-71 from long distance. George Fant (13.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is a factor on the defensive end of the floor with more than a block and a steal per contest.
WKU has played very well at home this season, but it has yet to host a team as impressive as the Golden Eagles, who have been clicking on all cylinders of late and should be able to overcome their road surroundings to pick up a win in this one.
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