Tops trying to avoid third straight home loss Sunday

Western Kentucky was walloped at home Thursday. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

The Hilltoppers (12-14, 6-7 Conference USA) took a 78-52 loss on the chin to rival Middle Tennessee, regressing further into the depths of the league standings. The defeat left Rick Stansbury’s team little recourse moving forward.

“So our next challenge is this – we gotta put this one behind us. It’s a good whoopin’ to a really good team. It’s done and over. We gotta get ready for the next one,” the first-year WKU coach said. “Sometime as a person, as a basketball player, you gotta find a way to just plant your foot and take a stand and make a statement.

“That’s what we gotta find a way to do Sunday somehow against a really good UAB team that smacked us really good down there. So that’s our next challenge.”

Western, at least, has an extra day to lick its wounds before Alabama-Birmingham (15-12, 8-6 CUSA) comes to town for a 1 p.m. tip Sunday. But at this juncture, time is running out to create any sort of semblance of momentum toward March.

The Tops have trailed at one point during the last two home games by 23 and 32, respectively. Last week against Marshall they were able to mount a comeback that got them within three with less than a minute to go.

Against MTSU? Not so much.

“As a team we gotta be able to go on our run once the other team goes on their run and we gotta be able to stop their run and keep our composure. I felt like after (MTSU’s run Thursday) we just fell a part,” WKU senior guard Pancake Thomas said. “I think we have to be ready from the jump, start off being aggressive and make shots.

“I just think we gotta be able to play for 40 minutes. I’m not really sure – I think if we’d knew (the answer) we’d be able to do it. We’ll figure it out.”

Western hosts a UAB team that has had struggles of its own. The Blazers have dropped 4 of 5 and are coming off a 75-49 defeat at Marshall on Thursday.

They’ve also lost four straight outside of Birmingham, Ala.

But Stansbury knows little of that matters when considering UAB rolled over WKU 72-54 on Jan. 12 in Bartow Arena. The Blazers outscored the Hilltoppers 44-18 in the paint that game, William Lee scored 19 and Tosin Mehinti aded 17.

Willie Carmichael left the program the day after that loss and Marty Leahy and Marko Stajkovski returned to their respective countries a few days later. Stansbury has been left with 10 Hilltoppers ever since, and Thursday, he only had nine while Jabari McGhee sat on the bench with a shoulder injury.

All those factors have made the recent home stand – one in which WKU hoped to use to climb the league standings – all that more difficult.

“People don’t feel sorry for you no matter what you’re trying to overcome,” Stansbury said. “Injuries? That’s part of the game. You gotta be good enough and tough enough to overcome it. And we weren’t.”

Western Kentucky is now 8-3 at home with three games inside E.A. Diddle Arena remaining. A loss Sunday would be its third straight at home, something that also happened last season.

“Next game we gotta be ready,” Thomas said. “You gotta have a short memory. You can’t have no quit in you. None of us have quit – we’ll be ready for the next game.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop