By GARY FAUBER
for the Daily Telegraph
Marshall basketball fans will get a glimpse of the future tonight as the Roundball Showcase continues.
The Thundering Herd (3-1), which got the monkey off its back with last Saturday’s win over UNC-Wilmington, will host Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. Currently members of the Sun Belt Conference, the Hilltoppers will join Conference USA next year.
This one will not be easy.
WKU (3-1) has been to the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, accumulating wins over Illinois and Drake — both No. 5 seeds — during that stretch.
“Our focus is to get ready for a very good Western Kentucky team — back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and predicted to win the Sun Belt this year,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said.
“They’re coming into our league next year, and this is going to be as good of a non-conference game as we’ve had in this building in a long time. Our crowd was solid for a noon game (vs. UNCW), but we need a big crowd Tuesday night. We need to make it really loud, because they are really good.”
The Hilltoppers have won three straight, and they have held nine consecutive opponents under 70 points. That includes a 64-57 loss to No. 1 seed Kansas in last season’s Big Dance.
T.J. Price, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior guard who wears No. 52, leads the Hilltoppers with 18.0 points and 2.5 assists per game. Junior forward George Fant (6-6, 245) averages 13.0 ppg and is their top rebounder at 6.8.
Marshall’s 96-78 win over UNC-Wilmington helped ease the sting of consecutive overtime losses at Morehead State and to Stephen F. Austin.
Elijah Pittman had his third 30-point game of the season, scoring a season-high 35, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Kareem Canty scored 19 points and had 10 assists.
The Herd shot 59 percent (36 of 61) from the floor, including 11 of 19 (57.9) from 3-point range.
“What a terrific bounce-back victory,” Herrion said. “This group continues to show a lot of things that continue to excite me with their makeup and personality. We had a tough week with two disheartening losses, but to bounce back with great energy and focus today and our unselfishness on offense was tremendous.
“Our transition defense was really poor in the second half, but we’re starting to learn well and transition into getting ready for conference play.
“I love my team so much and there’s so much that we can become. We’ve got a tremendous team coming in Tuesday night, so we need to get ready for that.”
— E-mail: gfauber@