WKU loses C-USA Championship, set to play in NIT

WKU basketball’s Taveion Hollingsworth points across court to a teammate after a good assist during their game against Old Dominion on March 5, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (20-7) fell in the Conference USA Championship Saturday 61-57 to North Texas. The Hilltoppers will play Saint Mary’s (14-9) in the 2021 National Invitational Tournament.

“There’s no question about that,” head coach Rick Stansbury said when asked if his team’s effort was good enough for a National Invitational Tournament bid. “We’re one of those teams, for sure. That wasn’t what we came [to the C- USA tournament] for. That’s not what our team put ourselves in position to do.”

The Hilltoppers played in three games prior to their bid to play in the NIT.

WKU had to face Texas-San Antonio in the quarterfinals, a team that had senior Jihvvan Jackson, who dropped 46 points on them inside Diddle Arena two years ago. Jackson was held in check, only scoring five points for the whole game. Junior Charles Bassey scored 17 of his 21 total points in the second half to help WKU pull away to an 80-67 win.

In the semifinals, the Hilltoppers had to face the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. Freshman Dayvion McKnight had one of his best games of the season, posting 13 points, nine assists and three steals.

Bassey had another huge second half, ultimately ending with 22 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. WKU shot 10-for-20 from behind the three-point line, while the Blazers shot 5-for-14, that’s +15 from behind the arc, which helped catapult the Hilltoppers to a 64-60 win.

The C-USA Championship served as a rematch of last year’s C-USA regular season championship game between WKU and North Texas.

UNT took a commanding 17-0 lead in the first half. WKU overcame the deficit in the second half outscoring the Mean Green 25-14. The Hilltoppers were up by seven with three minutes to go before UNT eventually tied it up, sending the game into overtime. North Texas outscored WKU 13-9 in the extended time to become the conference champions.

Saint Mary’s finished the season 11-5 in the West Coast Conference and lost to Gonzaga 84-66 in the WCC semifinal game.

The Gaels average 64 points per game and shoot 42% on the season. They are led by the backcourt of junior Logan Johnson and redshirt senior Tommy Kuhse, who average 14 and 13 points, respectively.

The big man down low, Mathias Tass, averaged 10 points and six rebounds while shooting 50% for the year. Saint Mary’s finished the season last in offense and first in defense in the WCC.

WKU and Saint Mary’s both participated in the Bad Boy Mowers Classic
at the beginning of the year but didn’t get to face each other in the tournament due to the Gaels losing in the first round.

The last time WKU received an invite to the NIT was in 2018 when the Hilltoppers beat Boston College, USC and Oklahoma State before heading to Madison Square Garden where they faced Utah in the semifinals and lost 69-64.

The Hilltoppers will play 8 p.m. Wednesday in Frisco, Texas, and the contest will be broadcasted on ESPN2. WKU is a No. 3 seeded team in the NIT and Saint Mary’s is a No. 2 seeded team.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.