Bassey leads WKU to fifth straight win, Hilltoppers play first game in 19 days

Senior Josh Anderson goes for a dunk late in the first half against Rice on Feb. 11, 2021. WKU had not played in a game in 19 days prior to a 77-71 win over the Owls. 

Jake Moore

WKU (14-4), (7-2, C-USA) played its first game in 19 days against Rice (12-9), (6-7, C-USA). This was WKU’s longest layoff between games since 1972-73. Rice came into Diddle Arena on a two-game winning streak after sweeping Southern Miss last week.  

The Hilltoppers took down the Owls 77-71 for game one of the weekend series. WKU extends its winning streak to five.

“I didn’t think we did as good of a job getting inside the zone in the second half,” head coach Rick Stansbury said when addressing his team’s performance. “In the first half we made some shots. We wanna throw [the ball] inside as much as we can, but eventually you’re gonna have to make some shots.”

Prior to tonight’s matchup, WKU announced sophomore Isaiah Cozart, redshirt senior Patrick Murphy, junior Kevin Osawe, sophomore Jordan Rawls, Associate Director of Operations Martin Cross, and associate head coach Phil Cunningham would not be present at tonight’s game due to COVID-19 team protocols. 

“We’ve known for a week or more,” Stansbury said when asked how his team has dealt with losing team members due to COVID-19 protocol. “It’s been adjusting all week long, several of those days we could only do individual workouts.”

Last Friday it was announced by the team a positive case kept them from playing its series at Florida Atlantic. This was the first positive case the program has had all season long. 

WKU big man junior Charles Bassey came into the game with 11 double-doubles, tied for third across the nation. He finished the night with his 12th double-double of the season, scoring 18 and grabbing 12 boards in the process along with two blocks. Seniors Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson both nabbed 17 points each, with Anderson going 3-of-4 from deep.

“I just play, I don’t look at the stats,” Bassey said of his performance tonight. “I go in there and play as hard as I can with my team.” 

Bassey won the tipoff to begin the first half, with Hollingsworth scoring the first bucket of the game. WKU put seven unanswered points on the board before Rice freshman Cameron Sheffield scored a quick three-pointer.

Hollingsworth made two threes to put WKU up 18-8 before taking a quick heat check that clanged off the rim. WKU was given plenty of clean looks from beyond the arc as Rice’s zone defense looked shaky early in the game.

“Since we’ve been out we’ve been working on our games,” Hollingsworth said of the 19 day layoff. “Just because we’ve been out doesn’t mean we’ll come back rusty, so we showed that tonight.” 

Rice held WKU scoreless for 3:13 coming out of the first media break, but Anderson broke the hiatus at 12:23 making a free throw after picking up a personal foul from Rice sophomore Quincy Olivari.

WKU Redshirt senior Carson Williams scored his first points on a layup during transition, making things 22-15 in favor of WKU. Freshman Dayvion McKnight stripped the ball clean from Rice and put in a soft layup on a fast break to extend WKU’s lead to 24-16.

Both teams then turned the ball over in back-to-back possessions, but redshirt junior Luke Frampton put a halt to the sloppy play with a clean three to put WKU up 29-23.

Williams hit his first three of the night after a timeout to put the Hilltoppers up 32-23, and Bassey tipped in an errant layup soon after to make things 34-23.

Bassey wasn’t done, following up on WKU’s next possession with an impressive dunk to give the imposing center his first big highlight of the night during the Hilltoppers 10-0 offensive run.

WKU started to heat up, punishing Rice in the paint for back-to-back layups, one each from Bassey and Frampton. The Hilltoppers enjoyed a 14-point lead with just under five minutes left to go in the first half, their largest of the game.

Bassey had another resounding dunk with 2:20 left to play in the half, giving him 12 points on the night. Then Anderson broke away for a thunderous fast break dunk off of a Rice turnover to put WKU up 48-38, and the Hilltoppers entered halftime with a 50-38 advantage.

“There was definitely a little fatigue in there,” Hollingsworth said. “You have to overcome that. Some of the guys it hit them harder than most of us but that’s why we have our teammates.” 

Rice struck first in the second half thanks to a three-pointer from sophomore Travis Evee, but Hollingsworth answered with his third three of the night. WKU started to pressure Rice more in the paint, forcing them to shoot from deep. 

A three-minute scoreless streak ensued before McKnight dropped in a layup, putting WKU up 55-47. Rice began to gain momentum, cutting WKU’s lead to four after a short two from Evee. The Hilltoppers gave themselves some breathing room with a three from Anderson to extend the lead back to seven points.

Both teams exchanged turnovers back and forth during a two-minute long offensive drought broken by Williams, who drew a foul on a layup but missed the free throw afterwards. 

Redshirt senior Kenny Cooper swiped the ball and set up a clean fast-break dunk for Williams, but Williams failed to complete it. Frampton hit his second three to put WKU up 67-58 and bring the team a little momentum after some sloppy turnovers. 

Bassey notched his 10th rebound with 6:14 left to play, securing the big man’s 12th double-double on the year. The Hilltoppers then opened up an 8-0 scoring run to put some more space in between them and their opponent. 

Bassey recorded a crucial block with 1:23 remaining to prevent Rice from cutting the lead down to four. Hollingsworth scored a rebound off of it to seal the game for the Hilltoppers. 

“I feel like tomorrow is going to be different,” Bassey said. “We’re going to put in two halves tomorrow and just get a win.” 

“Really nobody had zoned us before tonight,” Stansbury said when asked about how his team dealt with Rice’s defense. “There’s probably not ten minutes all year long we’ve been zoned, tonight we probably got zoned for 35 minutes. But overall, anytime you can win is good.”

Redshirt senior Kenny Cooper stayed on the court after the game working on his free throw form. Cooper shot 0-4 in free throws over the course of the night.

“There’s some things we need to get better at, basically make some free throws [in the] second half,” Stansbury said when talking about his team’s performance at the stripe. “Kenny [Cooper] is a better shooter than that, we need him to step up and make free throws.”

WKU and Rice will play again tomorrow night at 5 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

Sports reporter Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.