Hilltoppers extend winning streak to four, Bassey notches nation leading 11th double-double

WKU junior Charles Bassey (23) being greeted by teammate Luke Frampton on the sideline. The Hilltoppers took down Middle Tennessee 68-52 on Jan. 24, 2021. 

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (13-4), (6-2, C-USA) secured its second sweep in a row after defeating Middle Tennessee (3-9), (1-5, C-USA) 68-52, making this the best start since the 2001-2002 season. 

“It wasn’t the prettiest win but it was a win,” associate head coach Phil Cunningham said. “These back-to-backs are a physical and mental test and we walked out of here 19 hours ago. We challenged the guys to be the more energetic team.” 

Junior Charles Bassey earned his 11th double-double of the season, scoring 23 points and 14 rebounds against MTSU, which is tied for the most in the nation. Sophomore Kofi Cockburn from Illinois also has 11 double-doubles on the season. 

“People don’t realize how hard it is to get a sweep,” Cunningham said. “I thought today our guys just took care of business. Charles is Charles and he had a tremendous day dominating in the paint.”

Jordan Rawls finished with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and redshirt senior Kenny Cooper finished with nine points playing 23 minutes on 2-of-2 shooting while going 100% from the free throw line, shooting 4-of-4. 

“That’s one of the strengths of our teams,” Cooper said when asked about depth on back-to-back games. “On that second night [Jordan Rawls] and I were fresh and ready to go since we didn’t play much the night be before.” 

Another physical start to part two of the ‘100 Miles of Hate’ rivalry game of the 2020-21 season as both teams came out the gates battling for dominance inside the paint. 

WKU had a 14-10 lead halfway through the first half with senior Carson Williams leading the way scoring half of the teams’ points halfway through the first 20 minutes. 

Free throws weren’t a factor throughout the half as the teams combined for just six fouls. WKU shot four free throws while the Blue Raiders didn’t get to the line at all. 

MTSU tested the Hilltoppers’ depth after the second media break of the first half. While WKU was making its passes the shots weren’t finding the rim. By the third media break at 7:52, WKU had its starters back on the floor and hit the reset button as Cunningham huddled up with his team. 

Unlike game one, both teams were shooting poorly from the field but a 7-0 run by the Hilltoppers capped off by a contested three by Cooper gave the Hilltoppers a nine point lead. 

WKU held MTSU scoreless for 5:26 before the teams went to the locker room. Six of the nine players to touch the floor for the Hilltoppers were able to get on the scoreboard. WKU hit 6 of its last 8 shots to take a 31-20 lead at halftime. 

MTSU had a strong start to the second half, outsourcing WKU 16-8 to bring the deficit down to three. The Blue Raiders had 12 offensive rebounds which allowed the Blue Raiders to keep the game close for as long as it did.  

The Blue Raiders did all they could to take the lead but WKU kept them at arm’s length. WKU found itself up 10 with 1:30 left and that was essentially all she wrote, as WKU took a 16 point victory. 

Next weekend, WKU returns home to face Old Dominion. The Monarchs have a 9-5 all-time advantage in the series and have won three out of the last four meetings.

“We would play if we had the opportunity,” Cunningham said when asked if WKU would still play this weekend against a non-conference team with ODU players in quarantine. “I don’t know if the conference would let us with the way it has shaken out.” 

Cooper said postgame he would like to continue to play and keep it going if the series against ODU is available. 

Game one of the series is Friday night at 7 p.m. inside Diddle Arena followed by a 4 p.m. start on Saturday. Both games will be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network.

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