Arkansas State (14-9) at Western Kentucky (13-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 9, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: HSSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: ASU 11-2, WKU 9-2. Away Record: ASU 3-7, WKU 3-7. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, WKU 1-2. Conference Record: ASU 8-6, WKU 7-6. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 29-13.
GAME NOTES: The Western Kentucky Wildcats will try to win three straight games for the first time in more than two months, as they welcome the Arkansas State Red Wolves to E.A.Diddle Arena for a Sun Belt Conference battle on Saturday night.
ASU closed out a perfect three-game homestand after posting a 75-66 overtime victory versus North Texas last Saturday, but it had to travel to first-place Middle Tennessee on Thursday night, where it was handed a 73-60 defeat. The Red Wolves are still in the midst of a solid season at 14-9 overall, and they are in second place in the Sun Belt West Division with an 8-6 league ledger.
WKU's season took a nose dive at the start of the new year, as it dropped six of seven games, but just when it seemed like things were heading for disaster, it rebounded with back-to-back wins over Troy (65-61) and most recently at North Texas on Thursday (70-59). The Hilltoppers have moved back above .500 overall (13-11) and in conference (7-6).
WKU has a firm handle on the all-time series, 29-13, but ASU won the first meeting between the teams this season, claiming a 75-61 decision on Jan. 5.
The Red Wolves were able to climb back to make the final score against Middle Tennessee a bit more respectable, but the 13-point loss didn't show how badly they were beaten. They were outshot from the field, 53.6 percent to 36.5 percent, and they trailed by as many as 31 points midway through the second half. Cameron Golden finished with 15 points, while Marcus Hooten scored 10 points off the bench. The performance wasn't typical for ASU, which usually scores 68.9 ppg while holding opponents to only 63.3 ppg. It is one of only two teams in the conference to rank in the top-five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Ed Townsel is the catalyst at the offensive end of the floor with 14.1 ppg, and he is also active in the passing lanes with 1.9 spg. Brandon Peterson is a consistently strong force in the paint with nearly a double-double average of 10.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg, while Trey Finn chips in 9.4 ppg.
WKU was able to conquer its road test against North Texas on Thursday by shooting 45 percent from the floor, and it was helped out by a solid bench performance, as its reserves outscored the Mean Green's, 19-1. In his second game back after missing 11 bouts with an injury, point guard Jamal Crook put up 14 points, six rebounds and three assists to spark his team. It is impossible to ignore Crook's (13.3 ppg, 4.5 apg) importance to the Hilltoppers, as they have gone 10-3 with him in the lineup and just 3-8 in his absence. George Fant was also impressive in the triumph with 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Harris shot 3-of-5 from 3-point range en route to 10 points. On the season, WKU boasts a stellar defense, holding teams to 64.5 ppg, but its offensive output (65.8 ppg) has been barely good enough to support it. T.J. Price shoots less than 40 percent from the field, but he still leads the squad with 13.5 ppg, while Fant (11.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Harris (8.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) both handle the dirty work in the trenches.
With a healthy Crook back in the lineup, WKU appears set for a late-season push. Arkansas State has played well this year, but it has been vulnerable away from home (3-7), giving the Hilltoppers the upper-hand in this matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 66, Arkansas State 63
02/09 10:56:53 ET