Hilltoppers split series at Charlotte to open Conference USA play

Charlotte sophomore Brice Williams (left) guarding WKU freshman Dayvion McKnight (right) on Jan. 2, 2021. 

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (8-3), (1-1, C-USA) fell 75-71 in overtime to Charlotte (5-4), (1-1, C-USA) to close the first road series of Conference USA play, ending its six game win streak. 

“I think our biggest problem is the ability to make shots,” head coach Rick Stansbury said postgame. “It’s hard when everybody is collapsing when you can’t make enough shots. All of those things work better if you can jump up and make a couple more shots.” 

There wasn’t a lot of scoring to begin the game. A lot of defense and quite a few turnovers to begin the game. Both teams had four turnovers each in each of its first 11 possessions. 

WKU jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Charlotte went on a 12-2 run over the next six and a half minutes to have a 12-6 lead at the second media timeout. 

Junior transfer Luke Frampton started to warm up, hitting back to back threes later followed by a Charles Bassey basket plus the free throw, giving WKU the lead again. The junior center appeared more comfortable after playing the day before playing 12 minutes in the first half. 

Most of the first half was the teams trading blows, seeing who could get the upper hand and they played pretty evenly. Charlotte stayed on the forefront due to the Hilltoppers committing nine first half turnovers to the 49ers six, taking a 36-30 lead into halftime. 

Charlotte took advantage of Bassey being off the court, scoring 20 points in the paint with a four point advantage. 

Sophomore Jahmir Young led the 49ers again, scoring one-third of the team’s first half points by himself, shooting perfect from behind the arc and free throw line. Senior Josh Anderson led the Hilltoppers going into the half with eight points with one assist, rebound, steal, block, and a posterizing tomahawk dunk that was the highlight of the first half. 

{{tncms-inline account=”Stadium” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">JOSH ANDERSON HAMMER TIME<a href="https://twitter.com/WKUBasketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WKUBasketball</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoTops?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoTops</a> <a href="https://t.co/hQtp4FcfQr">pic.twitter.com/hQtp4FcfQr</a></p>— Stadium (@Stadium) <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium/status/1345487924473819145?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 2, 2021</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/Stadium/status/1345487924473819145″ type=”twitter”}}

WKU opened the second half playing their usual fast pace offense, scoring the first five points but a couple of turnovers led to baskets that allowed the 49ers to keep the lead. Charlotte then went on a 10-2 run, capitalizing off of mismatches they had with WKU switching its big men on the guards, allowing them to get to the basket easily to go up 46-37. 

The Hilltoppers didn’t let the 49ers gameplan faze them as they went on a 10-2 run, capitalizing off of four turnovers in four minutes by Charlotte to bring the deficit back to one. 

It then became the Taveion Hollingsworth show, going on a personal six point run, speeding up the flow of the game which helped WKU get to the free throw line with Charlotte missing free throws, building a five point lead.

Josh Anderson fouled out of the game with four and a half minutes left. 

“Not having Josh down the stretch the last four minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime,” Stansbury said. “We were struggling to score and we needed somebody to make some plays defensively and off that bounce.”

With four minutes left, Charlotte went on a 9-4 run to tie the game at 64 off of a couple of Hilltopper turnovers. Both teams were able to get shots off but neither could knock one through the hoop, forcing the game into overtime. 

It was a free throw filled affair in the extended play of time, Charlotte took a one point lead after Dayvion McKnight missed WKU’s first free throw of the day followed by Charlotte making both free throws on the other end. The 49ers got to the free throw line again with 1:40 left, hitting both to extend the lead to three. 

McKnight made up for the missed free throw with a tough jumper on the baseline with no time left on the shot clock to bring the deficit to one. Charlotte got to the free throw line again knocking them both down. McKnight threw the ball out of bounds on the next possession giving the 49ers the ball with 23 seconds left. 

Jahmir Young was sent to the line and knocked the clutch free throws down, Jordan Rawls hit a long two with four seconds left. Young went 1-of-2 on the line, icing the game and giving them the win.

Hollingsworth led WKU with 23 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Bassey had 11 points and eight rebounds. Rawls had 10 points, three rebounds, and two assists. 

Young led the 49ers with 24 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. 

WKU had 21 turnovers and only 12 assists compared to Charlotte’s 14 turnovers and 17 assists. In overtime Charlotte went 9-of-10 from the free throw line, WKU went 1-of-2. 

“We just have to be a little smarter than what we were doing,” Hollingsworth said. “We had three possessions in the last five minutes that were not just basketball plays and that’s what we gotta fix.”

WKU will now return home for its first two game home stand in conference play against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are currently (8-3), (1-1, C-USA) with its losses coming from the hands of LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Marshall. 

Tipoff for the two game series between the Hilltoppers and Bulldogs is 7 p.m. this Friday night, followed by a 6 p.m. start on Saturday. 

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