Nothing is falling for FAU. The ball is dancing around the rim, and WKU is coming up with the rebounds. FAU is 7-27 so far on the night, compared to 13-29 for WKU. Aguilar just made an and-one-worthy shake and got the foul. Suprising from a guy like him, but since his play has been limited due to injury in two seasons, it’s been hard to tell. He makes both FTs.
Stat-wise, it’s not too different. WKU leads in rebounding, 20-18, and 7-1 in turnovers. They have Evans’ ankle up on a stool and are examining it.
WKU starts out in a 2-3 zone, and it’s having sparing success. The seniors are making the most of their time so far. Japeth Aguilar got the opening defensive rebound, and after a Matt Maresca offensive board off a Slaughter miss, Mike Walker scores. An Orlando Mendez-Valdez three knotted the score, and an Aguilar jumper from the left baseline made it 7-5 WKU.
The seniors were subbed out at the 17 minute mark, except for Mendez-Valdez. He subbed out following a foul with Anthony Sally in. A Slaughter three makes it 12-7. The Toppers stay in the 2-3 zone, but the ball continues to get into the paint. Another Slaughter three makes it 15-9 going into the first media timeout.
Western up by seven, having made some key shots there in the final minutes of the half. Japeth Aguilar also came up with a key block on the defensive end, which seems to be the place that Western continues to earn their keep in this game.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments McDonald and company make at half to try to open up the offense a little more.
Arkansas State may not be the only opponent the Toppers face on this trip. The icy weather may become a factor in when tip-off is, based on the fact that conditions are not any better as Western heads southwest to Jonesboro, Ark. The weather has already forced the movement of the Lady Toppers’ game to right before the men’s game Thursday. Head coach Ken McDonald said the team has not given it a lot of thought, but it is something they will have to consider on the six-hour drive.
McDonald talked about the team being able to finish in late-game situations, pointing out the recent late-game, five-point swing at Denver that gave the Pioneers momentum. Sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew echoed that sentiment, saying that more intense practices are helping cure that problem. Look for more on this subject in Thursday’s Herald.
Once again, a big issue was depth. McDonald said that he is calling on senior forwards Mike Walker and Japeth Aguilar, as well as sophomore forward D.J. Magley, to make contributions off the Toppers’ already-thin bench. McDonald said all three players are coming along well in their progression. Walker has come back from tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament last season against South Alabam,a and Aguilar has battled foot and lower leg injuries since his arrival on the Hill. Magley has been the victim of his own foul trouble this season, but at times has shown the promise that he did last season. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as we go along.
Well, school has officially started here at Western. That means the alarm going off too early, exams, quizzes, assignments, and whatever else comes with school.
But let’s review the weekend that was. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams took rough tumbles at Denver. Luckily, because Arkansas-Little Rock and Middle Tennessee State both lost, the Toppers will survive the weekend and remain in first place.
Western has two games remaining in January, at Arkansas State on Thursday and then hosting North Texas on Saturday. The Toppers should win Thursday, but it may not be by much, and they should hold serve again on Saturday at Diddle. If they win both this weekend, it means they will finish 8-3 in the month of January.
And as we enter February, here’s three questions for the Toppers:
1. With four games remaining on the road, including stops at UALR and MTSU, can Western pick up pivotal road wins and hold their place in the standings?
2. When will the big men awake? Junior forward Jeremy Evans could use some support inside as Topper fans patiently wait for the likes of D.J. Magley, Japeth Aguilar and Matt Maresca to increase their productivity.
3. Is sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew Western’s most valuable player? He’s currently second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game and ranks third in rebounding averaging 4.9 boards per game.
Player to watch in February: Steffphon Pettigrew. The Elizabethtown product has turned it up in Sun Belt Conference play. Through nine games, he’s averaging 15.7 points per game, good for ninth-best in the conference. If he can continue his production in addition to what A.J. Slaughter, Orlando Mendez-Valdez and Sergio Kerusch can bring to the table, Western could present a potent four-headed monster down the stretch.
Game(s) to watch: This one is tricky. With this current squad, every game is one to watch because you never quite know what to expect.