Western Kentucky (4-2) at ULM (0-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 29, 8:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fant-Ewing Coliseum (7,000) -- Monroe, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: WKU 3-0, ULM 0-0. Away Record: WKU 0-1, ULM 0-2. Neutral Record: WKU 1-1, ULM 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 0-0, ULM 0-0. Series Record: WKU leads 7-1.
GAMES NOTES: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the ULM Warhawks will meet up in an early season Sun Belt Conference tilt at Faint-Ewing Coliseum on Thursday night.
The Hilltoppers come into this game with wins in four of their last five games including the last two. While the most recent victory over NAIA foe Brescia (74-46) doesn't jump out, the Hilltoppers had a solid showing in the Cancun Challenge where they went 3-1. This is only the second true road game for Western Kentucky, with the first ending in a 67-64 overtime loss to Southern Miss. Western Kentucky will also be on the road on Saturday against Troy.
The early season schedule has not been as grueling for ULM which has played only two games. However the Warhawks lost both of those on the road, with double-digit defeats to Oklahoma (85-51) and Louisiana Tech (68-52). The Warhawks get right back on the road in their next conference game this Saturday against Arkansas-Little Rock.
These teams met just once last season with Western Kentucky taking home the victory, 76-71 in overtime. The Hilltoppers have won seven of eight total meetings.
As might be expected, Western Kentucky had very little trouble with Brescia last time out. However there were some areas of concern, specifically shooting from beyond the arc and the free-throw line. The Hilltoppers netted just 1- of-21 shots from 3-point range and went just 23-of-40 at the charity stripe. Jamal Crooks led the way with 17 points.
Scoring from anywhere other than inside the 3-point line has been an issue for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers rank ninth in the Sun Belt in free throw percentage (63.9) and 10th in 3-point field goal percentage (24.4). That has really had a strain on the team's overall shooting, with the team connecting on only 40.7 percent of their field goal attempts. However Western Kentucky does rebound well (42.7 pg) and keeps opponents under 40 percent in shooting. Crook (17.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.0 apg) is a bit of an anomaly on the team as he is shooting a fantastic 58.1 percent from the field, while handling distribution duties. There are three different players averaging at least six rebounds per game led by Brandon Harris (6.7 rpg). T.J. Price (13.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and George Fant (10.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) crash the boards as well, while adding more in terms of scoring.
Although it trailed at halftime against Louisiana Tech, ULM kept it close in the first half by shooting 54.5 percent from the field. That type of success was not found in the second half when the Warhawks managed only nine field goals and shot 33.3 percent from the field. ULM also hurt itself by committing 22 turnovers. Trent Mackey came off the bench to score 17 points to pace the team.
Two games is a small sample size, but ULM desperately needs to improve on both ends of the floor. The Warhawks are scoring only 51.5 points per game and shooting 38.5 percent from the field. Opposing teams are scoring 76.5 points per gamer end and have been out-rebounding the Warhawks by 10 boards a game. Amos Olatayo (14.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg) played very well in the team's first game but fell off in the second. He is the best rebounder on the team but it remains to be seen if he can be a reliable scorer. Mackey was held scoreless and missed all seven of his field goal attempts against Oklahoma before leading the team in scoring against Louisiana Tech. R.J. McCray (8.5 ppg) has been less erratic but has also not shown the explosive scoring ability of McCray or Olatayo.
While the numbers for ULM are poor, part of that is the small sample size and the level of competition the Warhawks have dealt with. However, Western Kentucky has also faced some difficult challenges early on and come out on top for the most part. That will continue on Thursday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 72, ULM 62
11/29 10:38:25 ET