Growing Pains was far from my favorite sitcom, but it hit me at the right age as a young boy coming of age in the 1980s. Alan Thicke was the kind of former-rocker-turned-wise-counseling TV dad that hit the spot. He was calm and easy-going, always with a few lines in minutes 21 and 22 of his sitcom that seemed to allow everyone watching to neatly extract a life lesson from Mike Seaver's teenage hijinks. Somehow, I get the feeling none of the Hilltoppers consulted Alan Thicke on the post-game bus ride, but channeling him into some post-game thoughts could have helped.
As noted in previous episodes of my 800GP writings this season, WKU might be the youngest team in this fine coalition of states and commonwealths. Last night, like most every night, true freshmen (not redshirts, not just "new faces," I'm talking guys who are 18 or 19 years old) logged 66 percent of the possible minutes for WKU. Their opponent, league-leading Middle Tennessee, is stacked with juniors and seniors, many of them transfers who also have had the benefit of sitting out a year. MT has a nice mix of long-time Raiders and some powerhouse transfers that have jelled this season. Watching them up close, it is plain to see why MT boasts a 11-1 home record (6-0 Sun Belt) this season. Long, athletic, and mature, the Raiders can defend anyone in any conference, of that I am quite confident. They might lack the guard speed and outside shooting to make a serious NCAA run, but their defense would test any club in the 4-6 seed range come tourney time.
So when WKU came out of the gate with some fireball defense and jumped on the Raiders early, they did not look too worried. High-strung MT coach Kermit Davis did his normal, nervy gyrating and pacing, and although WKU led 11-6 at the under-12 media timeout, his mature club found their groove and managed to take a two-point lead into halftime. The second half consisted of MT landing body blow after body blow, mainly through one LaRon Dendy (who posted 26 points, 14 rebounds [6 offensive], 4 assists, 0 turnovers) on offense and with physical, trapping defense on the other end. But each time the Raider lead ballooned to 10 or 12, the young 'Toppers rallied to cut the lead down to size. In fact, WKU had two chances to cut the Raider lead to two with under two minutes to play. Each possession ended with point-blank layups that simply would not go down. MT was able to close it out for an eight-point victory on Mardi Gras night (flying beads at halftime included).
The red-clad youngsters played gutty basketball and should be commended for a solid defensive effort, even if they could not solve the thick Raider defense. And, Raider fans undoubtedly felt that this game was too close for comfort because of MT's ineptitude at the free throw line (17-37!). But if Alan Thicke were to console WKU after this game, he would not mention that. He would talk about how much more experienced MT is, how LaRon Dendy is the best player in this league this side of Tony Mitchell (North Texas), how they gave it their all and that's what really matters, and how many valuable lessons can be taken away. "These are growing pains, guys." And, he would have fabulous hair while saying it. (Insert laugh track to let you know that a terrible joke was supposed to be funny)
Instead of making the relatively short 100-mile bus ride home from MT back to WKU, the Tops boarded the bus and turned not homeward, but southward. This is the Sun Belt, which means Thursday-Saturday road trips, and WKU headed down to Troy immediately after last night's game for their tilt with the Trojans on Saturday. After starting 1-3 in the Belt and firing their coach, #HarperMania (support for interim head coach Ray Harper) is still going strong, as the Toppers are 3-4 in their last seven with three of those losses coming at perhaps the three toughest games in the league outside of Diddle Arena (at Denver, at North Texas, at MT). They were competitive throughout last night's game, and the game at Troy will finish a brutal stretch of games that has included six of eight on the road. The Tops close with three of four at home including a rematch with league-leading MT on February 25.
Perhaps Alan Thicke will not be needed after that one.
at MIDDLE TENNESSEE 72, WESTERN KENTUCKY 64 02/09/2012
WESTERN KENTUCKY 8-16 (4-7) -- T. Price 4-11 3-3 14; D. Gordon 2-11 4-4 9; G. Fant 5-10 2-2 12; J. Crook 3-12 2-2 8; K. McDonald 2-5 3-3 8; V. Zollo 2-6 0-0 5; T. Akol 2-6 0-0 4; N. Snipes 1-2 0-0 2; O. Akamune 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-65 14-14 64. MIDDLE TENNESSEE 22-4 (11-1) -- B. Massey 1-6 1-2 3; L. Dendy 10-22 6-12 26; K. Hammonds 4-8 1-4 10; M. Knight 6-13 0-2 12; J. Sulton 2-5 0-0 4; J. Jones 0-6 1-5 1; R. Cintron 2-4 5-6 11; T. Walker 0-0 2-3 2; J. Gallman 1-1 1-2 3; J. Oden 0-2 0-1 0. Totals 26-67 17-37 72.
Three-point goals: WKU 6-21 (T. Akol 0-1; J. Crook 0-3; K. McDonald 1-4; D. Gordon 1-1; T. Price 3-7; N. Snipes 0-1; V. Zollo 1-4), MTSU 3-11 (J. Oden 0-1; L. Dendy 0-2; K. Hammonds 1-3; B. Massey 0-1; R. Cintron 2-4); Rebounds: WKU 40 (G. Fant 11), MTSU 45 (L. Dendy 14); Assists: WKU 11 (D. Gordon 6), MTSU 18 (B. Massey 8); Total Fouls -- WKU 30, MTSU 18; Fouled Out: WKU-N. Snipes; MTSU-None.