Western heads to Columbia, S.C., Wednesday night to face former Head Coach Darrin Horn and South Carolina. Whether or not the Toppers will get the best out of their old coach won’t be decided until after the game’s 6 p.m. CT tip-off.
The Gamecocks (5-1) will be without two of their top-four scorers, losing both senior forward Dominique Archie and junior forward Mike Holmes to injury.
Not short on depth but rather production, slow-starting Western (2-2) is looking to get its bench in on the action. The Topper backups were out-scored 33-3 by Cal-State Northridge last Monday and 24-15 in a loss to Indiana State on Tuesday.
Senior guard A.J. Slaughter, senior forward Jeremy Evans and junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew met with members of the media Monday to discuss their first game back against a familiar face.
The message was clear. There’s plenty of motivation to beat Horn, who left for South Carolina after Western’s 29-7 2007 season that ended in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
“It’s a great opportunity go to out and beat a team like South Carolina,” Slaughter said. “It would be an added bonus with coach Horn on the sidelines.
“Just to go out there and win a game, and I know how frustrated and upset he’ll be if we go out there and get that W. He’ll be going around and yelling at his team, so that will be a little sweet revenge.”
Wednesday’s game won’t only be the Toppers’ first chance against Horn, but also the assistant coaches they got to know so well. Evans said he remembers joking around with the assistants, and that won’t change with them on the other sideline.
“I’m going to give them a look, let them know what’s coming,” Evans said with a laugh. “We always had fun, and just to let them know that we’re coming out just to win — and they want to win also — but we’re going to play as hard as we can.”
For Head Coach Ken McDonald, the same personal ties don’t exist. McDonald said that didn’t stop him from using the matchup with Horn to his advantage.
“We’ve talked about South Carolina with our team and exactly what their goals were here defensively and how we attack that,” McDonald said. “I think it’s really helped the new guys that weren’t here, mentally what they’re thinking.
“What kind of pressure are you going to face? What are they looking to accomplish? How can we attack it?”
Although Western’s starting five was thought to be set in stone, McDonald added that he’s experimented with ways to keep those starters off the floor once their minutes go over 30 a game.
“I’m shaking up the lineup a little bit in practice,” McDonald said. “Probably a little shorter leash for some of these guys that are not playing well.”
McDonald mentioned senior guard Anthony Sally, who is averaging 3.5 turnovers a game. Slaughter’s defense against Indiana State was also scrutinized by the second-year coach.
Also…Freshman guard Will Green is the only player on Western’s active roster that hasn’t recorded a minute this season. McDonald said Monday that he hasn’t yet thought to redshirt Green.
“He’s been better the last few days in practice,” McDonald said. “I think there’s definitely a sense of urgency with him now, definitely understanding minutes are hard to come by. He’s got to value practice time and understand that’s his interview so to speak — that’s his chance to get in.”