Taveion Hollingsworth’s career-high 43 points sends WKU past Louisiana Tech in overtime classic

Taveion Hollingsworth (11) celebrates after leading WKU back from a 17-point deficit with less than 6 minutes on the clock to force Louisiana Tech into overtime. WKU defeated LA Tech 95-91 in OT on Feb. 27, 2019. Hollingsworth led the team in scoring with his new career-high of 43 points.

Elliott Wells

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Louisiana Tech led for the entirety of regulation. The Bulldogs actually led WKU for 39:58 of clock time in regulation, which forced the game into overtime. The article has since been corrected. The Herald regrets the error.

The WKU men’s basketball team (19-9, 12-4 C-USA) rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final 5:51 of regulation against Louisiana Tech (20-8, 11-5 C-USA) on Thursday night, forcing an overtime period that saw the Hilltoppers claim an unbelievable 95-91 win in Diddle Arena.

WKU defeated LA Tech 65-54 in Diddle Arena on Feb. 6, but the Hilltoppers looked like a different squad on Senior Night. The Bulldogs led for almost the entirety of regulation, excluding only two seconds of an 80-80 stalemate that eventually sent the game into overtime.

LA Tech also led for much of the early portion of the overtime period, but the Hilltoppers used 2:03 of time tied and a mere 1:44 of lead time to sink LA Tech when it mattered, claiming their final home game of Conference USA Bonus Play in thrilling fashion.

Taveion Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers back with a career-high 43 points in 43 minutes of action for WKU. The junior guard also contributed six rebounds and three assists, shooting 17 for 19 from the charity stripe when WKU needed clutch shots late in overtime.

His 43 points were the most by a Hilltopper since Jim McDaniels scored 49 at Tennessee Tech on Jan. 4, 1971, and also the ninth-most ever scored in a game by a C-USA player from any institution.

“I’m going to go ahead and dedicate this game to my little brother,” Hollingsworth said following his 43-point outing. “Monday, I finally got to watch a middle school game and he broke part of his fibia and fractured part of his patella. His senior night was on Wednesday. So, I just want to dedicate this game to him and you know, I love you little bro.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">LA Tech 80, WKU 80 | END REG.Taveion Hollingsworth pushes the game into overtime with a 3-pointer that tied the game at 80-80. <a href="https://t.co/51EXs4yV5B">pic.twitter.com/51EXs4yV5B</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1233230015967395840?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 28, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1233230015967395840″ type=”twitter”}}

Prior to Thursday’s proceedings, LA Tech and WKU were tied for second place, each just one game behind top-seeded North Texas (19-10, 13-3 C-USA). Now, the Hilltoppers have sole possession of the No. 2 spot in C-USA with two games left before the conference tournament.

Head coach Rick Stansbury was 5-2 in his career against LA Tech, and career win No. 6 against the Bulldogs was far from easy to come by for the Hilltoppers.

The Bulldogs annihilated WKU in the paint, outscoring WKU 52-28 while outrebounding the Hilltoppers 46-35 on the boards. But the Hilltoppers overcame their size disadvantage by shooting 89% at the free-throw line and netting 11 of 31 shots from beyond the arc.

“We just knew when we got down 15 with about 3:20 to go, the only way we were going to win the game was kind of like Old Dominion,” Stansbury said in reference to his team’s successful 71-69 comeback win over the Monarchs on Jan. 16.

“We have to get some turnovers and some stops,” Stansbury continued. “We had to get that clock stopped and get to that free-throw line. Then, we had to have guys make some shots. You know, Taveion was able to make two threes down that little stretch there and was able to give to the foul line enough. [LA Tech] helped us out.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">WKU 95, LA Tech 91 | FINAL/OT.The Hilltoppers improve to 19-9 on the 2019-20 season against LA Tech in Diddle Arena. Following the win, WKU will travel to Denton, Texas, for a meeting with top-seeded North Texas on Sunday. Tipoff in The Super Pit is set for 1 p.m. on March 1. <a href="https://t.co/7RiG7NQoRu">pic.twitter.com/7RiG7NQoRu</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1233235243022286849?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 28, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1233235243022286849″ type=”twitter”}}

WKU started three seniors for Senior Night. Redshirt senior wing Jared Savage started his 27th game of the season for the Hilltoppers, graduate guard Camron Justice returned to the starting five and senior forward Matt Horton made his first career start on the Hill.

Junior guard Josh Anderson and redshirt junior forward Carson Williams came off the bench for WKU, each providing valuable minutes for the Hilltoppers down the stretch.

Justice and Carson Williams were the only Hilltopper other than Hollingsworth to reach double figures against the Bulldogs. Justice finished with 14 points, two rebounds and one assist, while Carson Williams came off the bench and added 17 points and seven rebounds.

Five Bulldog scorers reached double figures, led by redshirt senior guard Derric Jean with 16 points. Senior guard DaQuan Bracey and redshirt junior guard JaColby Pemberton each added 15 points, while freshman guard Cobe Williams contributed 13 off the bench.

Junior guard Amorie Archibald rounded out the LA Tech double-digit scorers with 10 points.

Senior forward Mubarak Muhammed won the opening tipoff for LA Tech, and he was rewarded with a basket just 24 seconds into the contest.

The Bulldogs began the game on a 7-0 scoring run until Hollingsworth scored the Hilltoppers’  first points at the 18:02 mark. The Lexington native swished both of his shots at the free-throw line, cutting the Bulldog lead to 7-2.

Carson Williams checked in for Horton at the 17:15 mark, and the Hilltopper offense started to make meaningful progress after starting 0 for 3 from the field.

After starting the game shooting 3 for 4 from the floor, the Bulldogs missed their next four shots from the field.

The Hilltoppers allowed four offensive rebounds by the 13:38 mark in the first half, leading to six second-chance points and a solid 14-7 lead for LA Tech.

Cobe Williams slammed down a one-handed dunk in transition for the Bulldogs, forcing Stansbury to ask for a timeout down 18-9 at the 11:18 mark.

WKU went on a scoring drought of over three minutes until Hollingsworth split the defense and knocked down a right-handed runner just above the free-throw line to trim the Hilltopper deficit to seven points, 18-11.

The Bulldogs pushed their lead to double digits for the first time at the 9:23 mark when Cobe Williams scored his second layup of the game to give LA Tech a 22-11 advantage.

As the third media timeout of the opening half approached, the Hilltoppers trailed the Bulldogs 24-14 at the 7:37 mark.

After the break, WKU and LA Tech traded baskets. The Bulldogs continued to show their dominance inside, scoring 22 of their 28 points in the paint at the 6:21 mark.

WKU trailed the Bulldogs 30-16 at the 5:27 mark, but the Hilltoppers scored eight straight points and caused LA Tech head coach Eric Konkol to call a timeout with 3:30 left in the first half.

The Bulldogs ended WKU’s 8-0 scoring run at the 3:12 mark, as Pemberton caught a pass on the block and scored an easy layup. His shot helped LA Tech possess a 32-24 lead at that point.

The Hilltoppers answered with a combined 9-2 scoring run, drawing within one point of the Bulldogs at 34-33 with 14 seconds left to play in the first half.

It seemed WKU would go into the halftime break trailing by only one point, but Cobe Williams drained one last 3-pointer as the clock struck 0:00 to play in the opening period.

His last-ditch effort seemed to be an attempt at drawing one last shooting foul, but his shot went in and put the Hilltoppers down 37-33 at the halftime break.

Just like WKU’s opening game of C-USA Bonus Play against Charlotte on Feb. 22, the Hilltoppers struggled to score the ball early in the first half. WKU only trailed by four points at the half, but the Hilltoppers only shot 35.7% from the floor. 

WKU struggled to keep LA Tech out of the paint in the opening frame, as the Bulldogs outscored the Hilltoppers 28-12 inside the painted area.

LA Tech shot a dominating 55.2% from the floor in the first half, and Cobe Williams led the way off the bench with nine points and five rebounds in 7:52 of action.

Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers in the first half with 15 points, carrying WKU with seven points in the final 5:18 of the half.

Carson Williams was the only other player in the game to reach double figures in the first half, as he scored 10 of WKU’s 12 bench points in the first 20 minutes of action.

The Hilltoppers looked to cut the Bulldog lead to just a point on their opening possession of the half, but Hollingsworth’s shot was off the mark. LA Tech then made a 3-pointer of its own to control a 40-33 lead just 46 seconds into the second half.

Savage failed to score a single point in the first half of action, but the Bowling Green native eventually penciled his name into the scoring column with a 3-pointer at the 16:48 mark, trimming the Bulldog lead to 42-38.

Savage followed his first bucket up with another from beyond the arc, this time draining a 3-pointer that served as the bookend to a WKU fastbreak. The senior stood stone-faced after his made shot, soaking in the crowd’s adoration as he got back on defense.

The Hilltoppers cut their deficit to 42-41 at the 15:49 mark after Savage’s make. LA Tech then rattled off nine straight points and pushed its lead out to double figures for the first time of the second half at the 13:05 mark, 51-41.

The Bulldogs’ explosive run forced Stansbury to call a full timeout. WKU scored baskets on back-to-back possessions after the timeout, drawing closer to LA Tech at 53-45.

LA Tech pushed its lead back to double figures at the 11:11 mark, as Jean drained his second triple of the night to put WKU down 56-45.

The Hilltoppers struggled for an extended portion of the second half, going 4:37 without a point and allowing LA Tech to hold a 63-47 lead with 6:34 left to play in the game.

Hollingsworth surpassed the 20-point threshold at the 6:13 mark of the second half, as he knocked down a pair of free throws and trimmed the WKU deficit to 63-49.

The Bulldogs later stretched their lead over WKU to 17 points, which was their largest lead of the ball game. But the Hilltoppers mounted a 5-0 run and trimmed the LA Tech lead to 66-54 at the final media timeout with 3:46 left to play in the game.

WKU made several trips to the foul line in the waning minutes of the contest, and those makes allowed Hollingsworth to bring WKU back into the game. He drilled a fastbreak 3-pointer with 1:23 to play, and the Hilltoppers had life once again, trailing LA Tech 72-65.

Stansbury instructed his players to foul late in the contest, and the Bulldogs responded by making the majority of their shots at the charity stripe when it counted.

Hollingsworth established a new career-high with 50 seconds remaining in the game, scoring his 32nd point and cutting the Bulldog lead to 74-69.

LA Tech knocked down a pair of free throws with 41 seconds left in the contest, but Justice drained a triple to trim the Bulldog lead to 76-72 with 31 seconds to play.

The Bulldogs drained another pair of free throws to hold a six point lead with 27.7 seconds left in regulation.

Hollingsworth extended his career-high to 35 points, as he banked a shot in from distance to bring the Hilltoppers within three points with 17 seconds left, 78-75.

LA Tech went 1-of-2 at the free-throw line on its next possession and then fouled WKU with 14 seconds left. Anderson went to the charity stripe, swishing both free throws and cutting the Bulldog lead to just 79-77.

The Hilltoppers fouled LA Tech with 10 seconds left in the game, sending Jean to the free-throw line, making 1-of-2 shots. 

Carson Williams collected the rebound and passed the ball to Hollingsworth. The smooth operator went to work from there, sending the game to overtime with a clutch 3-pointer. 

Both Savage and Justice fouled out of the contest in regulation, forcing Stansbury to rely on redshirt freshman guard Jeremiah Gambrell down the stretch.

LA Tech gained the first possession of overtime, but the Hilltoppers scored the first point of the extra period, as Carson Williams gave WKU its first lead of the game at the 4:38 mark, 81-80.

The Bulldogs quickly regained their lead just 20 seconds later, as redshirt junior forward Andrew Gordon completed a three-point play to give LA Tech an 83-81 lead.

Anderson scored three straight points for the Hilltoppers to give WKU its second lead of the contest at 84-83 with 2:37 left in the game.

The Bulldogs quickly responded with a 3-pointer at the 2:12 mark, but Anderson blocked Bracey’s layup at the rim and allowed Gambrell to score his first points of the night. His transition layup evened the score up at 86-86.

Hollingsworth regained the lead for the Hilltoppers with 59.2 seconds left in the game, as the guard knocked down a free throw and gave WKU an 87-86 lead. 

Freshman guard Jordan Rawls stepped up to the free-throw line with 28.4 seconds left in the game, and the Chattanooga, Tennessee, native sunk both of his two foul shots to give WKU an 89-86 lead with under 30 seconds to play.

LA Tech cut the WKU lead to 89-88 after senior forward Oliver Powell tipped in his first two points of the evening with 18.2 seconds left.

Hollingsworth returned to the free-throw line with 12.3 seconds left in overtime, and the 6-foot-2-inch guard reached the 40-point mark by swishing in both free throws and giving WKU a three-point cushion.

The Hilltoppers decided to foul Bracey with 11.6 seconds remaining, and the Baltimore native went 1-of-2 at the free-throw line. Hollingsworth was fouled once more with 9.6 seconds left in the game, and he gave the Hilltoppers a four-point advantage late.

LA Tech scored with just over a second left and then fouled Rawls. The freshman iced the game at the line, giving WKU an improbable four-point victory over the Bulldogs.

Following the win, the Hilltoppers will travel to Denton, Texas, before continuing C-USA Bonus Play against North Texas on Sunday.

The Mean Green are 1-1 so far in C-USA Bonus play, falling to LA Tech 73-71 on Feb. 22 and claiming a 78-59 win at No. 5 seed Florida International (17-11, 8-7 C-USA) on Thursday.

Tipoff in the Super Pit is set for 1 p.m. on March 1.

The afternoon game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at [email protected] Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.