Western Kentucky Hilltoppers mascot Big Red [600x400]
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers mascot Big Red [600x400] (Credit: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Western Kentucky promoted assistant Hank Plona on Tuesday to replace head coach Steve Lutz, who was hired by Oklahoma State after leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA tournament in his lone season.

Plona joined the program this past season and helped guide WKU to the Conference USA tournament championship and first NCAA berth since 2013. The 15th-seeded Toppers (22-12) fell in the first round to No. 2 seed Marquette in Indianapolis.

Before being hired at WKU, Plona won nearly 87% of his games in eight seasons coaching Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College and earned eight consecutive ICCAC regular-season titles, six postseason crowns and seven NJCAA tournament appearances. The Hilltoppers ranked 17th nationally in Division I in bench scoring at nearly 29 points per game and averaged nearly 40 rebounds (19th).

WKU athletic director Todd Stewart called Plona "a winner" in a news release announcing his promotion and cited his "integral role" in many phases of the team's conference title run. "I am confident [that] under his leadership we will continue to build on the strong momentum that has been established. His incredible winning percentage over his previous eight years as head coach speaks for itself, and he has a proven history of strong recruiting and player development."

Plona thanked Stewart and WKU president Tim Caboni for the opportunity, along with Lutz for hiring him. The former assistant at South Plains (Texas) College and Arkansas-Fort Smith promised to continue WKU's fast-paced style and said, "we are eager to build upon the success of the 2023-24 season."