Coach Ken McDonald is off the pressure cooker for another three days after handing Troy a true beatdown Saturday night.
Junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew called it Western’s best game to date, senior guard A.J. Slaughter said it had to do with defense, and junior forward Sergio Kerusch was just happy to be back in front of the home crowd.
Either which way, one of the Toppers’ best efforts of the season came after a down night at Louisiana-Monroe. After an up day against New Orleans. After five straight losses to precede that.
In each of those games — win or lose, good performance or bad performance — the Toppers proved they have what it takes to win the Sun Belt Conference. It’s just that they did it in spurts, showing their youth too many times to win on the road.
And that youth heads right to the captain, McDonald himself.
Because it’s easy to forget that this is only McDonald’s second year as a head coach despite his first-year success. That quite possibly, last season’s feats were just as much beginner’s luck as anything. Or even that this season’s active roster, which includes seven newcomers, is still learning.
So is McDonald.
“This coaching thing’s not easy,” McDonald said, laughing. “You think you have stuff figured out. You think you can read body language, temperament and how guys are doing.”
Only McDonald can’t do those things as well as he’d like. Not yet.
McDonald said he’s talking about game-planning for specific defenses or players while at the same time improving his own players’ skill sets.
“We see in practice with the habits, and that’s the biggest thing,” McDonald said.
So don’t jump ship on this team before they get a chance in Hot Springs at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, because as four games in seven days this week will force Western to grow up, so will McDonald.
And as most experiences as a second-year head coach are new experiences, things can only get better.