I certainly hope we will see another dandy tonight.
No matter how you look at it, WKU is coming off a classic contest. Whether you’re focusing on Saturday’s buzzer beater over UALR or the last time the Tops and Arkansas State got together, this has been, and will hopefully continue to be, one of the most memorable basketball seasons on the Hill in recent memory, if not ever.
Since the double-overtime loss to the Hilltoppers, Arkansas State has played only three games, beating both Trojans teams (UALR and Troy) while dropping a middle contest to ULM in Monroe. The Red Wolves haven’t won back-to-back games since they went on a four game winning streak in December (Dec. 21st – Jan. 4th), defeating Marshall, Southern Arkansas, Texas-Arlington and Texas State in the process.
State is lead by Kirk Van Slyke, who averages 16.7 points per game in just over 31 minutes. Melvin Johnson is the only other Red Wolf to average double-figures per game, as he puts up 14.4 in 28 minutes. The Red Wolves do a lot of things solidly, but do few things incredibly well. However, one of the things they do, is limit the field-goal attempts taken by their opponents, which is the second least in all of the Sun Belt. Oddly enough, putting all the bad stats and low-scorers aside, the Red Wolves are the third highest scoring team in the league, averaging 76.2 points per Sun Belt game.
The Hilltoppers, on the other hand, are the 5th highest scoring SBC team, averaging just under 71 points per game, and yet, have still managed to compile a 6-game winning streak. Their strengths lie in George Fant and T.J. Price, who lead the Tops, and WKU goes as those two go. Fant comes into the game riding a 53 game-starting streak (which, hopefully, he’ll continue tonight), and averages 13.5 points per game, and leads the team with 7 rebounds per game. Price has the honors of leading the team in scoring, notching 16.6 points per, and also a force on the glass, with 4.6 boards per.
Long story short – one of these guys has to show up tonight, or this wild 6-game ride for the Hilltoppers might come to an end. Nothing against any of the other guys – especially guys like Chris Harrison-Docks (10.2 ppg) and Saturday’s hero Trency Jackson (10.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg) – but George and T.J. have been impact players ever since Harper’s first tenure two years ago, when the duo were freshman, and have the battle-scars with the team needed to lead the team. One of the reasons Saturday’s game was such a dog fight, aside from it being a late-season conference game, was the lack of dominance from both Fant and Price. If the Tops want their best chance at escaping Jonesboro with a win, one of these guys is going to have to drop 20.
Fant’s streak will continue, and he will be joined by Price, Jackson, CHD and Aaron Adeoye, who needs to work on his foul-trouble, for WKU’s starting 5 tonight.
Let’s see how everything will unfold, and hopefully, we will be standing up and cheering by the end of the night. And hopefully, we will know the result a lot sooner. My heart can’t take another down-to-the-wire finish.