WKU takes down MTSU, five Hilltoppers score double digits

WKU Associate Coach Phil Cunningham standing on the sideline yelling at one of his players during WKU’s game at MTSU. The Hilltoppers were without head coach Rick Stansbury over the weekend after having a fever prior to the game. 

WKU (12-4), (5-2, C-USA) took the floor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee without head coach Rick Stansbury due to a fever. The Hilltoppers skipper had three negative COVID-19 PCR tests during the week, but due to an abundance of caution Stansbury did not travel to Middle Tennessee. 

WKU Athletics announced associate head coach Phil Cunningham would serve as the interim head coach in Stansbury’s absence. Cunningham joined WKU last season after spending the previous six seasons as the head coach of Troy University.

“This was an interesting day, to say the least,” Cunningham said. “We were just in a normal day getting ready to shoot around and I got a call and from that point on it was a whirlwind and I hadn’t really locked in on this opponent.” 

Cunningham gave credit to assistant coach Marcus Grant for knowing MTSU backward and forwards. 

Strength and conditioning coach Duane Hall and assistant coach Hennssy Auriantal also did not travel due to being around Stansbury prior to the first game of the weekend. 

WKU won 82-67 over MTSU (3-9), (1-5, C-USA) without Stansbury adding onto their Conference USA success. 

Five players scored in double figures for WKU. Junior Charles Bassey led with 16 points and 12 rebounds while grabbing his tenth double-double of the season. Redshirt senior Carson Williams and senior Taveion Hollingsworth both followed with 15 points each, while junior Transfer Luke Frampton had 14 with four three pointers. 

It was a physical game right from the beginning in the ‘100 Miles of Hate’ rivalry game. Up until halfway through the first half, all of WKU’s points were from free throws and three pointers. 

Nine Hilltoppers checked into the game at some point throughout the first half, trying to get some offensive flow. The usual leaders weren’t playing up to par including junior Charles Bassey who didn’t grab his first rebound of the game until eight minutes into the contest. 

“There was so much senior leadership out there today,” Cunningham said. “It was a really good win under the circumstances.” 

Bassey and senior Taveion Hollingsworth had zero points combined in the first 13 minutes of the game. Hollingsworth took and made his first shot with 6:38 in the half followed by Bassey hitting his first with 5:43 left. 

WKU kept control, drawing nine fouls in the first half and getting to the free throw line 13 times going 12-of-13 while MTSU shot 1-of-2 on the free throw line. 

The Blue Raiders’ leading scorer junior Dontrell Shuler returned to the lineup after missing the last four games but had an ineffective first half due to picking up three fouls. 

Junior transfer Luke Frampton had 11 points and hit three three-point shots with senior Josh Anderson followed with seven points to carry the load in the first half for WKU. 

“I think when you’re knocking down shots, it builds confidence in people and if it carries over it’s more likely to happen,” Frampton said. “We got a lot of tools that we can use to help get the win and we showed it today.”

MTSU was able to keep it close due to hitting five three pointers while forcing nine first half turnovers by the Hilltoppers. Bassey and Carson Williams both picked up two fouls in the first half. 

WKU took a 38-30 lead into the locker room. 

Williams came out of the break throwing down a dunk before the first media timeout at 16:51 and WKU led 42-36. Hollingsworth answered back out of the break with a dagger from deep to extend the lead to 45-36. 

WKU had a 15-2 run in three minutes that helped extend its lead to 17, just six minutes into the half. Sophomore Jordan Rawls hit his second triple of the game with 12:11 left in regulation before a timeout was called on the floor. 

WKU didn’t look back from there, as they went on to win the game 82-67. 

WKU shot 51% from the field and hit 10-of-20 from behind the arc. Bassey put down his first triple of the weekend with 2:43 remaining in regulation to reach 16 points. 

Despite having 17 turnovers, WKU scored more fast break points and kept the Blue Raiders to only six.

Dontrell Shuler led MTSU with 18 points despite picking up three first half fouls. 

“We got a lot of bodies that played a lot of minutes today so our bench is definitely going to have to step up tomorrow and come out ready to fight because it’s going to be another fight,” Frampton said. “So hopefully we can come out and get the win.” 

WKU will be back in the Murphy Center tomorrow against MTSU with a 1 p.m. tipoff. 

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

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.