At 6-2 and on a four-game winning streak, Hilltoppers not satisfied

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The Hilltoppers have won four straight games. They’ve started the season 6-2, beaten a ranked team and their only two defeats are by a total of 13 points.

And, Saturday, after a second straight blowout win at home, Western Kentucky was in no way satisfied.

“Just making better decisions with the ball and playing better defense,” WKU senior center Dwight Coleby said on how he and his teammates could be even better. “Some times we just get lackadaisical, get loose with the ball and then it causes turnovers. We gotta stay sharp and just execute the gameplan.”

Western blew open a questionable outcome Saturday against Wright State with a 21-5 run in the second half that turned into a 78-60 win. It had five players in double figures, 15 assists on 28 made buckets and held WSU to 36.7 percent shooting.

Yet it was kind of a sleep-walk performance for WKU for much of the night. Or as second-year coach Rick Stansbury called it, “casual.”

“I just thought we got casual. They went to a zone, it really wasn’t their zone at all. Just some casualness on our part,” he said. “Too many bad passes, casual passes, that you just can’t have. As a coach, I know it happens in teams. As a coach you don’t like it. But I guess the positive thing is we found a way to win and at the end of the day that’s the most-important thing, too.”

Despite no one in a red-and-white jersey being 100 percent happy with the 40 minutes of play Saturday, the stat sheet was still full of goodness once again. Senior guard Darius Thompson flirted with a triple-double with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists (and no turnovers) and senior forward Justin Johnson had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Coleby chipped in 10 points to go along with eight rebounds and four blocks. Taveion Hollingsworth didn’t score in the first half yet still finished with 13 points.

Those numbers have become more common than not for a team with just eight active players.

“We’ve got (six) guys averaging double figures don’t we? It’s hard to key on any one guy,” Stansbury said. “(Johnson’s) capable of getting us 20 a night, so is (Coleby). Any of those perimeter people are. It’s hard to come in and gameplan against us and say, ‘We gotta take (Johnson) out.’ Now you can’t do that because there’s too many other people around that has opportunities to beat you and beat you in different ways.

“I think all those perimeter guys have the freedom to beat you with a shot and beat you off that bounce. That makes it difficult. And (Coleby’s) still a big ol’ load in there. He’s a big ol’ load in and around that rim.”

The Hilltoppers have won four straight nonconference games for the first time since 2012 and are also off to their best start since that season (8-2). They haven’t won five straight nonconference games since starting the 2004 season 6-0.

They’ll have a chance to do that Dec. 10 at Ohio (5-3).

“We’ll give ‘em some time to take their finals,” Stansbury said. “At the same time, I no what that focus is sometimes until we get all that behind us.

“Just continue to clean up things. I don’t think there’s one particular area. If you’re gonna ask me one thing, it’s just playing with that magical level of energy. I don’t think it’s about turnovers. I think defensively we’ve gotten pretty good. But of all those things it’s just about energy, energy, energy. That’s the biggest thing I look for and I look for it every day in practice.”

Western Kentucky will enter one of the toughest stretches of the season after a week off. The Dec. 10 game at Ohio will be the program’s latest true road game since Dec. 14, 1985 and that trip is followed by a game at Wisconsin.

The nonconference run ends with home games against Indiana State and Belmont and a trip to Austin Peay. Stansbury’s hope is that for that stretch his squad will play with a more concerted effort when it comes to the intangibles.

“As a coach, you wish you’d come out every night and play your best for 40 minutes every possession. It’s unrealistic. I know that,” Stansbury said. “Our guys think I’m crazy when I’m sometimes not real happy with a win.

“I’m gonna never let fatigue be an excuse. It’s hard to – again, as a coach, you preach every possession, when you practice, give everything you got. So you stay off that mountain, you stay out of that valley. But I know it always don’t happen. I understand that. It don’t. But as a coach that’s what you push for and strive for every day.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop