Western Kentucky (13-12) at Florida Atlantic (11-15)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 14, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FAU Arena (5,000) -- Boca Raton, Florida. Television: HSSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: WKU 9-3, FAU 7-4. Away Record: WKU 3-7, FAU 3-11. Neutral Record: WKU 1-2, FAU 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 7-7, FAU 6-9. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 10-4.
GAME NOTES: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers begin a brief two-game road trip on Thursday night, as they take on the Florida Atlantic Owls in a Sun Belt Conference tilt at FAU Arena in Boca Raton.
WKU had won back-to-back games over Troy (65-61) and North Texas (70-59) heading into its last bout with Arkansas State, but the good times came to an end with a disappointing 67-49 home loss. The defeat allowed dropped the Hilltoppers to 13-12 overall and back to .500 in conference play (7-7).
FAU began its league slate strong, winning five of its first eight Sun Belt matchups, but since then it has plummeted in the standings with losses in six of its last seven, including three straight. The Owls suffered a heartbreaking 72-71 defeat at South Alabama last Saturday.
Although WKU leads the all-time series, 10-4, FAU has won three of the last five matchups, including the first meeting this season, 65-62, on Jan. 12.
The Hilltoppers didn't stand much of a chance in their latest game, shooting just 32 percent from the field (including 5-of-21 from 3-point range) on their way to an 18-point loss to Arkansas State. There wasn't much for the home fans to cheer about in the setback, but T.J. Price put forth a stellar effort, tallying 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Price has been the team's top scoring option all season long, putting up 13.9 ppg thanks mostly to his success from 3-point range (52-of-146). Jamal Crook (12.7 ppg, 4.4 apg) recently returned to the lineup after missing 11 games with an injury, but he hasn't been the same player he was before, averaging just 6.3 ppg on 31.8 percent from the field in three games since rejoining the team. George Fant adds 11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and nearly a block and a steal per game, and while Brandon Harris (8.4 ppg) has a woeful field goal percentage (.310), he is crucial in the rebounding battle (6.0 rpg). As a team, WKU owns the league's third-ranked scoring defense (64.6 ppg), but it ranks a distant eighth in scoring offense (65.2 ppg).
FAU battled South Alabama from the outset, and it took a one-point lead in the back-and-forth affair on a pair of Jordan McCoy free throws with just over a minute remaining in regulation. The Owls could not hold that advantage however, as the Jaguars converted the game-winning bucket on their ensuing possession. FAU was solid from the floor, outshooting South Alabama 45.3 percent to 40 percent, but the difference came in the turnover battle, where it coughed the ball up 13 times compared to just eight times by the Jaguars. Greg Gantt put together another strong performance with 23 points, Stefan Moody made all 10 of the free throws en route to 16 points, and McCoy logged a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Gantt is the Sun Belt's top scorer this season with 21.1 ppg, doing most of his damage from 3-point range (71-of-180) and the foul line (96-of-121). Moody is a strong second option (14.2 ppg), and while McCoy nets only 5.5 ppg, he has earned 30-plus minutes in back-to-back games and has cashed in with 15.0 ppg and 10.5 ppg. Despite the presence of some impressive scoring talent, the Owls put up just 64.0 ppg on 41.3 percent shooting from the field.
Both of these teams have been rather unpredictable this season. With FAU holding the home court and boasting the league's most explosive scorer, it should find a way to halt its losing streak.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida Atlantic 67, Western Kentucky 64
02/14 10:32:56 ET