Florida Atlantic (8-9) at Western Kentucky (10-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 12, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: HSSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: FAU 5-2, WKU 7-0. Away Record: FAU 2-7, WKU 2-5. Neutral Record: FAU 1-0, WKU 1-2. Conference Record: FAU 3-3, WKU 4-2. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 10-3.
GAME NOTES: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will attempt to stay unbeaten at E.A. Diddle Arena, as they entertain the Florida Atlantic Owls in a Sun Belt Conference bout on Saturday night.
FAU had opened the new year with back-to-back home wins over Hofstra (61-57) and Louisiana (75-70), but that run came to an end on Thursday night when they traveled to first-place Middle Tennessee and suffered a 62-52 defeat. The loss dropped the Owls to 3-3 in conference play, and they dipped back below .500 overall at 8-9.
As the reigning Sun Belt Conference champions, WKU has started the year off in decent fashion at 10-7, but it has been trending downward of late. After winning its first four league matchups, the Hilltoppers have experienced losses in two straight, at Arkansas-Little Rock (75-67) and versus Arkansas State last Saturday, 75-61. They have now lost five of their last seven overall.
WKU leads the all-time series with FAU, 10-3, although the teams have split the season series in each of the past two years.
Western Kentucky actually held a four-point halftime lead over Arkansas State in its latest bout, but things came unraveled in the second half as the Red Wolves outscored the Hilltoppers, 52-34, in handing them the 14-point loss. Doing his best to provide a spark off the bench was Aleksejs Rostov, who shot 5-of-6 from 3-point range en route to 17 points. T.J. Price (11 points) and Brandon Harris (10 points, five assists) were the only other players to reach double figures, but the two combined to shoot just 7-of-22 from the floor. On the season, the Hilltoppers shoot 43.3 percent from the field for 67.5 ppg, resulting in a scoring margin of plus-1.8. They also boast a solid plus-5.6 rebounding margin, but their biggest issue has been hanging onto the basketball as they commit more than 16 turnovers per contest. With Jamal Crook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) expected to be out another few weeks with a foot injury, Price (14.4 ppg) will continue to act as the team's top scorer. George Fant (11.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg) has been strong in the frontcourt, as has Harris (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.9 spg).
FAU fell behind Middle Tennessee early in the first half and could never recover, as it shot just 17-of-42 from the field while committing 15 turnovers. Despite the team's struggles, Greg Gantt still got his, shooting 8- of-15 from the field for 23 points, continuing his incredible scoring pace as he ranks fifth in the country with 22.5 ppg. Stefan Moody was also impressive with 18 points, but nine others who took the court for the Owls combined for just 11 points. Even though FAU has Gantt to rely on every night, its offensive output is still modest at best, the team shooting just over 40 percent from the field for 64.3 ppg. Moody tallies 14.3 ppg, while Pablo Bertone nets 8.3 ppg. The Owls rely heavily on the 3-pointer, as they attempt more than 17 long-range launches per game. Naturally, it's Gantt who does most of the damage, connecting on 49 treys at a 42.6 percent clip.
FAU has been a hard team to figure out this year, but as long as Gantt is on the court, it has the ability to win just about any game. In this matchup however, the Hilltoppers will be too much for the Owls to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 68, Florida Atlantic 61
01/12 10:33:22 ET