Hilltoppers still searching for consistently positive point guard play

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Before Western Kentucky reaches that next pinnacle of play, it must get better – and more consistent play – from the point guard position.

With 17 games in the books, first-year coach Rick Stansbury has relied upon a trio of Hilltoppers to run the offense. Those three – Junior Lomomba, Damari Parris and Tobias Howard – have played well at times, but also struggled greatly during other stretches.

“We know – that’s been well talked about and well documented,” Stansbury said after Saturday’s loss to Old Dominion. “(Lomomba) don’t make any turnovers on purpose, everybody understand that. He’s a great kid.

“If you’re asking me would I rather him not turn that basketball over? Five turnovers? I would.”

Lomomba, a graduate of Providence, came to WKU after mostly playing off-the-ball for the Friars from 2014-2016. He chose to transfer to Western so he could transition to the point guard spot in hopes that would improve his probability at playing professionally.

He has flashed moments of brilliance, like in games against Jacksonville State, Missouri and Austin Peay where he’s totaled 20 assists to just six turnovers. But on other nights, like games against Florida International, Indiana State and Eastern Kentucky, he totaled 13 turnovers to just four assists.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound native of Montreal, despite the inconsistencies, still leads the Tops with 54 assists and 3.2 assists per game.

“Personally, I think just staying aggressive. Being a little bit more aggressive. Continuing to be vocal on the floor. And just continue to direct stuff,” he said Thursday when asked about his play. “I think the last few games I’ve done a pretty good job just making sure the offense is being ran the proper way, that the guys are getting good shots, that type of stuff, controlling the tempo a little bit.

“But as far as myself, just continue to be vocal, continue to lead and be a little more aggressive.”

Behind Lomomba are a pair of freshmen in Parris and Howard. Parris has played in 14 games, but went through a six-game stretch where he didn’t play in three of those and logged just 13 minutes in the other three.

The 6-foot, 160-pounder originally from Maryland has registered just 12 assists to 10 turnovers. His best asset has been long-distance shooting where he’s made 46.2 percent of those shots.

Howard has played in 15 games, although he’s registered just 23 minutes in the last three and has only appeared in three of the last five. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of Lithonia, Ga., has totaled just 15 assists to 14 turnovers.

“Those two guys, I feel like each and every game that we play, any time those guys come in, they give us an extra boost, some type of energy, they help with the tempo being different type of point guards,” Lomomba said. “They come in ready to play defense and to do whatever coach wants ‘em to do to help the team win. They’ve been doing great.”

Stansbury said he has had all sorts of point guards throughout his long coaching career. But he added that today’s brand of basketball uses a different version of the position than the traditional, look-to-pass-first point guard whose main responsibility was to run plays and organize the offense.

Today’s style of play calls for a versatile, athletic player not pigeonholed to a prototype.

“If you ask me, would I love to have a guy that can shoot it? A guy that can get in that paint? A guy that’s cerebral and a guy that can guard? That’s what you look for, a guy that can get a little bit of all of it,” Stansbury said. “As we all know, that’s such a valuable position on the floor.

“It’ll be an ongoing scenario all year long – point guard play. What will our depth give us, how will our depth play? How will (Parris) play? There’s been games where he’s stepped up and I played him a bunch of minutes and he’s played well. Then there’s other games he hasn’t done as well. That’s kind of a roll of the dice sometimes. I wish I knew 100 percent what I was getting.”

Western Kentucky, coming off a 79-67 loss Saturday to Old Dominion at home, embarks on a three-game road trip starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Alabama-Birmingham. The Blazers (9-7, 2-1 Conference USA) have won 3 of 4 and are 5-2 at home this season and 21-2 in their 17 at Bartow Arena.

The Hilltoppers (9-8, 3-1 CUSA) last won at UAB in 2005 and are 3-13 there in 16 trips.

They’ll continue to look toward Lomomba to front the offense and hope the senior continues to improve as March creeps closer

“As crazy as it sounds, (Lomomba’s) probably come a long way from where he was,” Stansbury said. “The first time he stepped on campus he had never played the point guard. He maybe don’t always do things the way we want ‘em, but from where he was to now, he’s made a big improvement, too.”

“The thing I know with (Lomomba), Lomomba’s gonna give me some consistent experience out there defensively. He’s not gonna make a lot of mental mistakes defensively.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop