Josh Anderson missed three games earlier this season due to COVID-19 protocols, but since then he’s been playing the best basketball in his Western Kentucky career.

The fifth-year senior guard has provided a much-needed spark off the bench for the Hilltoppers in his six games back leading into this week’s games against Rice and North Texas.

“Even though he comes off the bench, he plays starter minutes every night and I look at him as a starter,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said after Saturday’s 84-71 win over Florida International at E.A. Diddle Arena. “He’s been terrific for us over these last six games since he’s come off that bench.”

Anderson entered the latest contest averaging 15.4 points while shooting 63.4% from the field, 64.3% from 3-point range and 88.9% from the free-throw line since missing the team’s games against Rhodes College, Eastern Kentucky and Buffalo.

“He just definitely feels more loose out there. You can see it in his game,” WKU guard Jairus Hamilton said last week in a Zoom conference to preview the game against the Panthers. “He’s just moving, he’s just playing the game he needs to play. He’s a veteran guy and he knows how the game goes. I’m just glad to see him have success out there. It’s definitely helping our team a lot.”

On Saturday, he led five Hilltoppers to score in double figures with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 shooting from deep and 2-of-2 shooting from the free-throw line.

He also had three steals and a block, playing a key role defensively when he switched onto FIU leading scorer Tevin Brewer.

“Your ability tonight to guard Brewer was huge for us,” Stansbury said to Anderson after he entered the Paul Just Media Center. “We kept that guy out of that lane with your length and athleticism. We ain’t going to change anything this guy’s doing right now. He’s playing terrific for us.”

Anderson had scored at least 16 points just once this season before missing the three games, and scored in double figures just three times in six games. In the six games since his return, he’s scored 13, 18, 13, 18, 15 and 16 points – with three of those games coming against Power Five teams and the final two against Conference USA foes.

“He’s an old vet guy and he knows what to do,” WKU guard Luke Frampton said Saturday. “He’s been through here for five years now, so he knows the system, he knows what coach wants and he’s always going to play hard no matter who we’re playing, and I think that’s what he does best. He just gives us energy and 16 points off the bench – that’s huge for us.”

In his four years prior, he averaged 7.4, 12.1, 10.1 and 9.3 points per game, while his 3-point shooting percentage has gone from 14.3% his freshman season – where he went just 1-of-7 – to 28.8%, 26.1% and 33.3% last season, before skyrocketing to 48.5% this season. His season high for made triples in a season was last year when he made 19, and he has 16 already this season, with 11 since his return from the three-game absence.

“You could probably just take a couple and it would be his best stretch, but for sure six games – it’s not even close,” Stansbury said. “As I’ve said, it seems like the game slowed down for him since he came back from COVID. What’s those reasons? I don’t know. Has coming off the bench changed that? I don’t know. I just know he’s playing really good at both ends of the floor – offensively and defensively – and that’s huge for us.”

In his brief appearance during Stansbury’s postgame news conference Saturday, Anderson said, “I like the rhythm I’m in right now,” and with his recent production, the sixth-year WKU head coach has no plans to change that by reinserting him into the starting lineup.

“As long as he’s playing like he’s playing, I don’t want to change how he’s doing. He’s a starter anyway. It’s not who starts, it’s who finishes most of the time, and he’s going to play those amount of minutes – 25 tonight – he’s going to play those minutes every night for us,” Stansbury said Saturday. “Is there an issue with starting him? Absolutely not, but from where we are and the way we’ve been doing a little bit from a rhythm standpoint, I don’t want to do anything that changes his flow.”{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.