By Cameron Blair
Eastern will be looking to rebound from last season’s 23-point defeat at the hands of Western Kentucky when the Colonels (3-4) face the Hilltoppers (5-2) in the hoops version of the Battle of the Bluegrass Saturday.This could also be the last time the Colonels will get a chance to face their in-state rivals for some time, according to Head Coach Jeff Neubauer.
“Our contract with them expires after this season,” Neubauer said. He added that the Hilltoppers have not expressed an interest in renewing that contract soon.
Neubauer emphasized the game’s importance for itself and not as part of an in-state rivalry.
“The game is important because of the fact that it is a part of our early season schedule and that is when you hope to learn about your team,” Neubauer said. “Hopefully, we will learn something from the game no matter if we win or lose.”
The Colonels are coming off their third victory of the season. Eastern defeated Youngstown State 61-50 Saturday at McBrayer arena, snapping the Colonels’ four-game losing streak.
Seniors Darnell Dialls and Jamaal Douglas led the way for the Colonels. Dialls scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds while Douglas scored 10 points and had a team-high nine rebounds.
Douglas and Dialls also combined to make 13 of their 19 field goal attempts (67.8 percent).
“We were very efficient and effective on the inside tonight,” Neubauer said, referring to the effort of the two men.
Eastern’s defense also played a big part in the victory. The Colonels out-rebounded the Penguins 35-44 and forced 17 turnovers during the game.
Neubauer was pleased with the defensive effort, but said he was not completely satisfied with the team’s play on that end of the floor.
“I was proud of what our defense did tonight,” Neubauer said. “But, our defense does have to get much better, there’s no doubt about that.”
The Colonels have been led during the young season by the inside-out combination of Dialls and junior swingman Mike Rose. Dialls averages 10.1 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game. Rose leads the Colonels in points per game (13.1) and averages 3.4 rebounds per game.
Reigning OVC co-Freshman of the Year Adam Leonard averages 8.6 points per game this season and leads the team in steals with 16, averaging 2.2 per game.
The Hilltoppers are coming off their second defeat of the season. Western fell on the road to Northern Arizona Saturday 64-61. The Hilltoppers rallied to tie the game after trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, only to lose on a last-second 3-pointer by Northern Arizona’s Josh Wilson.
The Hilltoppers have won five of their seven games this season, holding victories over the OVC’s Murray State and Michigan from the Big Ten.
Western is led by the senior combination of forward Courtney Lee and guard Tyrone Brazelton. Lee, who has picked up two Sun Belt Player of the Week awards this season, averages 22.1 points per game and leads the Hilltoppers in steals,
averaging 3 per game.
Brazelton is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game, and leads the team in assists, dishing out 3.2 per contest.
The Colonels and Hilltoppers faced each other last season in Bowling Green Dec. 2. The Hilltoppers defeated Eastern 78-55, which was the largest margin of defeat for the Colonels last season.
Lee led the way for the hot-shooting Hilltoppers. The senior forward scored 22 points, dished out seven assists and made all five of his 3-point attempts during the game. Senior Ty Rogers chipped in with 15 points, connecting on five of his six 3-point attempts.
“We have played a lot of talented teams this season and Western certainly fits that mold,” Neubauer said. “They are an incredibly talented team.”
The Hilltoppers used some hot shooting from the 3-point line to put the game out of reach. Western made 68.2 percent of its 3-point attempts, connecting on 15 of its 22 shots from beyond the arc.
Leonard was one of the few bright spots for the Colonels in the defeat. The sophomore point guard led the Colonels in scoring with 15 points to go along with a team-high four assists and three steals.
Rose, the Colonels’ leading scorer last season, struggled against the Hilltoppers. Rose scored six points in the game and made only three of his 11 field goal attempts. He also led the team in turnovers, committing four during the game.
Darnell Dialls did not play for the Colonels in that game.
Saturday will also be the Colonels’ first opportunity to play against Western’s Steffphon Pettigrew. Pettigrew won the Mr. Kentucky Basketball award last season playing for Elizabethtown High School.
Tip off is at 7 p.m. at McBrayer Arena.