FIU (4-5) at Western Kentucky (8-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, December 27, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: ESPN3, ESPN Full Court. Home Record: FIU 1-2, WKU 5-0. Away Record: FIU 3-3, WKU 2-3. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, WKU 1-2. Conference Record: FIU 1-1, WKU 2-0. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 28-4.
GAME NOTES: After suffering three losses in a row, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers return to Sun Belt Conference action to host the FIU Panthers at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Hilltoppers lost their last three games, but to a trio of tough opponents in Murray State (75-70), Virginia Commonwealth (76-44), and Louisville (78-55). The setbacks dropped Western Kentucky to an 8-5 overall record, but its perfect 2-0 mark in Sun Belt action remains intact. Coach Ray Harper's squad has picked up victories in 10 straight games at E.A. Diddle Arena and four consecutive conference games. Despite suffering a pair of blowout losses in their last two appearances, the Hilltoppers are still outscoring their opponents by an average of 2.5 ppg.
WKU will have its work cut out for it in this one as FIU enters just one game below .500 with a 4-5 overall record. The Panthers are 1-1 in SBC play and are coming off of a 48-45 win over Texas Southern on Dec. 22. First-year head coach Richard Pitino's squad has been inconsistent on its way to a scoring offense of 69.2 points per game. FIU is allowing its foe to produce 72.1 ppg on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor.
This will be the 34th meeting between these teams on the hardwood. The Hilltoppers hold a sizeable 28-4 all-time series lead after their 67-63 victory in last season's SBC Tournament in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Both teams struggled the last time FIU took the floor, as it shot 36 percent, while Texas Southern managed to make only 29 percent of its shots. The Panthers used an 11-0 run to close the opening half to take control and held off Texas Southern's late rally. Jerome Frink netted 14 points and Marco Porcher Jimenez tallied 12 points. Malik Smith leads the team with 14.3 ppg. Tymell Murphy (12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Frink (10.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are adding scoring and rebound for FIU as well.
WKU was held to 38.8 percent shooting versus the fifth-ranked Cardinals, allowing Louisville, which shot 50 percent from the field, to coast to a 23- point win. The Hilltoppers allowed 40 points in the paint and 21 more on the fast break in the loss. Brandon Harris paced WKU with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Eddie Alcantara scored a career-high 11 points in 20 minutes of action. T.J. Price leads the team with 15.4 ppg, but he was held to just two his last time out. He is most likely to bounce back after reaching double- figures in 10 of his last 12 games. Jamal Crook (14.5 ppg) and George Fant (11 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are also scoring in double figures regularly.
The Hilltoppers hold the edge in this one despite their recent losses. FIU will need a big effort from Smith and Murphy to hand the Hilltoppers their first conference loss of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 73, FIU 64
12/27 10:33:51 ET