Diagne debuts and gives WKU lift in the post

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NORFOLK, Va. — Moustapha Diagne is back. Finally.

Western Kentucky’s redshirt-sophomore forward made his Division I debut Thursday during his team’s 75-68 win at Old Dominion. He’d waited a long, long time to get back on the court.

“I asked him how did he play? He said he felt like he was watching himself play. He didn’t know. He was kinda out of it,” WKU senior guard Darius Thompson said. “But being out for a year and half, that could be hard on anybody. I’m just glad he came out here and played as hard as he could, giving us that energy. That’s really how he’s gonna help us and I feel like he did that tonight.”

Diagne had not played in a game since March 17, 2016 when he scored 12 points for Northwest Florida State in a 116-90 loss to Hutchinson Community College. He spent the 2015-16 season there where he averaged 10.2 points and 7.3 rebounds.

After originally committing to and then signing with Syracuse, Diagne enrolled at NFS. He then declared for the NBA draft in April of 2016 then withdrew his name in May.

Diagne enrolled at Western Kentucky in August of 2016 and spent last season as a traditional student in Bowling Green. He was declared eligible by the NCAA on Wednesday after missing the Hilltoppers first 16 games.

“Didn’t have great stats scoring, but we probably couldn’t have got out of here with his (four) fouls and his body in there defending. He was huge for us,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Glad we had him. He’ll get better as we start playing. This was probably a tough place to get baptized at. I don’t know if there’s any big guys in the league any better than these (ODU) guys."

Diagne finished scoreless in his 17 minutes, but did collect four rebounds. He also turned the ball over twice and picked up four fouls – but those four fouls helped relieve the pressure of seniors Justin Johnson and Dwight Coleby who have had no true backups to this point in the season.

Diagne checked in Thursday at the 12:51 mark of the first half, quickly picked up a foul on the defensive end and then turned the ball over on the offensive end. His presence in a Western uniform, though, added more emotionally and mentally to a WKU team now with a 10 players.

After Diagne learned he was cleared Wednesday he flew by himself to Norfolk where he arrived at the team hotel just before midnight. He can probably relax a little bit more at Charlotte on Saturday as his college career has now finally resumed.

“It’s just great having him back on our team,” Johnson said. “He’s a big team guy, he’s a great guy to have on the floor with us. I just love having him in that locker room. He’s the best teammate you could ask for. He’s all smiles whether he does something right on the court or not, he’s gonna give you everything he’s got.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop