Western Kentucky (18-15) vs. Arkansas State (19-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, March 10, 10 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Summit Arena (6,200) -- Hot Spring, Arkansas. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: WKU 11-4, ASU 13-2. Away Record: WKU 4-9, ASU 5-9. Neutral Record: WKU 3-2, ASU 1-0. Conference Record: WKU 10-10, ASU 12-8. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 29-14.
GAME NOTES: The sixth-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers attempt to continue yet another improbable Sun Belt Conference Tournament run on Sunday night, as they square off with the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the semifinal round at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The winner will advance to Monday's championship game to tangle with either FIU on Middle Tennessee.
After winning the 2012 SBC Tournament as the seventh seed, WKU is playing a familiar tune this year having advanced to the semifinals. After making easy work of ULM in the first round (74-60), the Hilltoppers dismissed third-seeded South Alabama in Saturday night's quarterfinals, 62-59, to improve to 18-15 overall.
Although ASU (19-11) earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye after winning the SBC West Division this season, it came into the tournament on a down note with back-to-back losses and that nearly carried over into its quarterfinal matchup, as it played into overtime against 10th-seeded Troy. Fortunately for them, the Red Wolves got their act together in the extra session to pull out the 68-63 win to advance.
ASU defeated WKU twice during the regular season by a combined 32 points, although the Hilltoppers still lead the all-time series, 29-14.
Western Kentucky and South Alabama battled back-and-forth in their quarterfinal-round matchup, and after the Jaguars took a 59-58 lead in the final minute, the Hilltoppers answered as Jamal Crook converted the game- winning layup with 17 seconds left, and T.J. Price drained a pair of free throws to seal the deal. The Hilltoppers were in foul trouble all game, as South Alabama went 23-of-27 from the stripe, but they outshot the Jaguars from the field, 46 percent to 34 percent, and won the turnover battle, 15-11. Price finished with 22 points, George Fant tallied 18 points and nine rebounds, while Crook added 10 points in the winning effort. On the season, WKU makes 43.2 percent of its field goal attempts for 67.5 ppg, which is more than what it surrenders to opponents (.425, 66.1 ppg). Price is a Second Team All-SBC selection, pouring in 15.3 ppg thanks in large part to his 77 3-pointers. Fant is a strong asset in the frontcourt with 13.0 ppg (on 49.4 percent from the field), 6.7 rpg and 1.1 bpg, while Crook runs the point with 12.2 ppg, 4.3 apg and 1.5 spg.
Arkansas State found itself down by eight points to Troy at the half after scoring just 18 total in the first half, but it got its act together after intermission and led by four with just 11 seconds remaining before the Trojans made an improbable comeback to force overtime. The Red Wolves were able to win the extra session, 11-6, to advance. Although the team shot a disappointing 38.9 percent from the field, it received a pair of fine performances. Brandon Peterson was a beast in the paint, tallying 18 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and two blocks, while Ed Townsel scored a game-high 19 points from off the bench. The heart of this ASU squad, which scores 69.0 ppg, comes down low with Peterson, who puts up 10.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg and more than a block and a steal per game, as he was honored with an All-SBC Second Team selection. Townsel (13.4 ppg) and Trey Finn (10.5 ppg) are the team's top perimeter performers, but neither shoots greater than 38 percent from the field.
ASU has been the better team all season, and it proved in the season series that it has WKU's number, but all that goes out the window in this tournament. The Red Wolves were fortunate to have skated by a hapless Troy squad, and they could be in for a rude awakening from the Hilltoppers, who seem to play their best in the biggest games.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 68, Arkansas State 66
03/10 10:32:13 ET