Tops look to close out year with one last win

Published 2:16 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

Western Kentucky’s men’s basketball team hopes to close out the year with one last victory Saturday afternoon at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Hilltoppers, winners of six straight games, host Abilene Christian in a 2 p.m. matchup at Diddle, with ESPN+ slated the broadcast the game.

It will be the home portion of the Conference USA/Western Athletic Conference scheduling initiative that matches up the two conferences for a total of 36 games (18 each for men’s and women’s basketball) for WKU (10-3), which claimed a 73-70 road win against WAC member Cal Baptist on Dec. 19 in Riverside, Calif.

WKU held a 42-28 halftime lead against Cal Baptist, but had to hold on for the win with a final minute defensive stop after going cold from the field late.

“It’s one thing to be aggressive, but you’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to be patiently aggressive,” WKU coach Steve Lutz said during his postgame radio interview on the Hilltopper Sports Network following the win. “We were not that, but luckily we pulled out the victory and at the end of the day you get judged on wins and losses. We won the game.”

That was the Hilltoppers’ last game before the Christmas break, with the win boosting WKU to its best 13-game start since the 2004-05 season. Redshirt senior guard/forward Dontaie Allen had his most productive game of the season, scoring a team-high 17 points along with four rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal.

Junior point guard Don McHenry, who leads the Tops in scoring this season (15.1 points per game), added 14 polnts, four assists and three rebounds, while redshirt senior guard Brandon Newman pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds plus added seven points, three assists and a block in the win.

The Tops look to close out the nonconference schedule undefeated at home after going 5-0 so far at Diddle with wins against Kentucky Wesleyan, Kentucky State, Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay.

Abilene Christian (5-7) could be the most formidable nonconference opponent to visit Diddle this season. The Wildcats, coached by Brette Tanner, opened their season with a stunning 65-59 road win against Oklahoma State on Nov. 6 in Stillwater, Okla. They also have neutral-site wins against San Jose State and Fordham and won their first matchup against a CUSA foe by beating UTEP 88-82 on Dec. 17 in Abilene, Texas.

The Wildcats are coming off an 83-73 road loss to Arkansas on Dec. 21, a game Abilene Christian led 35-28 at halftime. Junior guard Ali Abdou Dibba led the Wildcats with 18 points against Arkansas.

Dibba leads Abilene Christian in scoring this season at 14.2 points per game, with senior forward Airion Simmons (12.6 ppg) and senior guard Hunter Jack Madden (11.3 ppg) also averaging double-digit scoring.

The Wildcats lead the WAC and are 64th in the nation with a 2.8 turnover margin and are 17th in the nation at forcing turnovers with 16.3 per game. ACU is 15th in the NCAA at getting to the free-throw line, averaging 26.2 free throw attempts per game. The Wildcats had a school-record 48 attempts in the win over UTEP.

WKU leads the all-time series 2-0, with the last meeting between the two programs coming in the 1965-66 season.