Former Salmen star Price surging for WKU

T.J. Price is back in his home state.

Price, a former Class 4A Player of the Year at Salmen High School, leads Western Kentucky in scoring entering Saturday night’s Sun Belt Conference game at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Those who watched him lead Salmen to back-to-back trips to the Top 28 in 2009 and ’10 will notice the pull-up jumper he has added to his offensive repertoire. If Price continues to perform at an all-conference level — his 14.4 points per game rank seventh in the Sun Belt — he also will showcase an improved ability to create shots not just for himself but for others.

His 35.6 percent average on 3-pointers ranks in the conference’s top 10. He also has scored in double figures in 21 of his past 27 games.

Improvements like this have allowed him to sidestep any sophomore slump and become one of the Hilltoppers’ most dependable scorers.

While Western Kentucky’s season hasn’t been as successful as he hoped, Price and the Hilltoppers are trying to gain momentum. On Thursday, Price scored 15 points in a 75-57 win against Louisiana-Monroe. The victory ended Western Kentucky’s three-game losing streak with three games left in the regular season.

Price, a sophomore guard, wants his team to mimic its efforts against ULL.

“(The ULM) game was great for us — finally getting a win, getting off that losing streak,” he said. “Going into Saturday’s game, we need to be focused on defense, ready to play.”

Western Kentucky (14-14, 8-9) is the defending Sun Belt tournament champion. If he wants to earn the program’s 23rd berth to the NCAA tournament, he and his teammates must repeat that feat.

Western Kentucky, in fourth place in the Sun Belt’s East Division, has struggled this season on the road, winning just three of 12 games away from E.A. Diddle Arena. With any luck, Price will enjoy one of his better games of the season with family and friends in the stands.

“It’s always fun to play in front of people you know,” Price said. “It’s almost like playing in high school again.”

Last season, Price played 30 games, starting 20, and averaged 9.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. During Western Kentucky’s most recent loss, an 87-82 setback Feb. 16 at Florida International, he scored 22 points and had a career-high six 3-pointers. He also had six assists.