Old Dominion-W. Kentucky Preview

Old Dominion had little trouble passing its first test as a ranked team.

Its second might be a bit more difficult.

Looking for an 11th straight victory Saturday, the visiting No. 25 Monarchs try to keep Western Kentucky from a fifth consecutive win in this Conference USA matchup.

Some Old Dominion players admitted to nervousness prior to Thursday’s 72-51 victory at Marshall, the school’s first game as a ranked squad.

”I feel like it was a lot of pressure,” said guard Jordan Baker, who finished with 11 points.

Off to their best start since joining Division I in 1976-77, the Monarchs (13-1, 2-0) again relied on a smothering defense that ranks eighth nationally with 54.8 points allowed per game and first in the league with a field-goal percentage defense of 38.5. Old Dominion held the Thundering Herd to 37.0 percent and forced 22 turnovers it turned into 18 points.

"Some of the things we have tried to emphasize is we have to defend every possession," said Monarchs coach Jeff Jones, whose team has allowed more than 54 points once in seven games.

"We can’t take possessions off – we’re not good enough. I think that they’re buying in, and have a decent understanding of how we need to play to be successful, and if we get away from that, we’re not nearly as good."

Jones knows his team must be at its best against Western Kentucky (9-5, 2-0), second in the conference with 73.6 points per game and first in 3-point shooting at 37.6 percent.

"We’ve played well defensively, but there’s only been a handful of games that I would say, over the course of 40 minutes, that we have played at a very high level," Jones said.

Though the Hilltoppers have won four straight – all at home – since losing 76-67 there in a physical matchup with then-No. 4 Louisville on Dec. 20, coach Ray Harper knows the task that awaits his squad could also be very tough.

"(Old Dominion plays) the game the right way, (it plays) extremely hard," Harper said. "We know we have a huge challenge coming up.

"I’m sure our kids will be excited, but at the same time we have to stay within ourselves and be ourselves."

Guard T.J. Price averages 17.7 points to lead four Hilltoppers in double figures and is shooting 47.7 percent from beyond the arc. After scoring 25 to help WKU win its Conference USA debut 81-62 over Marshall on Sunday, he had 21 points in Thursday’s 74-66 victory over Charlotte.

While the Hilltoppers pose a serious offensive threat, they’ve also allowed 37.1 percent shooting in winning six of seven.

After shooting 39.7 percent in its previous five contests, Old Dominion hit 48.3 percent at Marshall. Guard Trey Freeman averages a team-high 16.0 points – nearly seven more than anyone else – but the Monarchs have had three different scoring leaders in the last three games.

This is the first meeting of these schools since WKU took both matchups in 1990-91 while the teams were members of the Sun Belt Conference.

The Hilltoppers have dropped nine straight against Top 25 opponents.