Taveion Hollingsworth lifts WKU past Old Dominion

Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth (left) celebrates with freshman guard Jordan Rawls (right) following the WKU Hilltoppers’ 71-69 comeback win over the Old Dominion Monarchs on Thursday, Jan. 16 in Diddle Arena.

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team (11-6, 4-1 C-USA) lost a heartbreaker to Old Dominion (6-11, 2-2 C-USA) in the 2019 Conference USA Tournament championship game, but the Hilltoppers reversed their fortunes in the 2020 edition in Diddle Arena on Thursday night.

ODU held a 64-52 lead with 3:30 left to play in the contest, but the Hilltoppers built a 19-5 run and captured their second double-digit comeback in conference play, 71-69.

The Monarchs had won three of their last four after an eight-game losing streak, but head coach Rick Stansbury said WKU had a “next guy up” approach, especially after graduate guard Camron Justice was forced to sit out for the second straight game.

“Listen, it’s always big to get wins,” Stansbury said. “Wins are not easy to come by. But to do it without Cam Justice and whatever other pieces we don’t have, it’s huge.”

“That’s a really good Old Dominion basketball team now,” Stansbury continued. “Those guys are good. Forget that record, they’re able to beat anybody, anywhere on any given night. So, it’s always huge when you can win, when you can do without some other pieces, it just makes it more special.”

WKU shot 45% from the field and turned the Monarchs over 15 times, scoring 25 points off turnovers. The Hilltoppers were able to get out in transition by using a full-court press during much of the contest, causing turnovers and scoring 15 points in transition.

Freshman guard Jordan Rawls received his third consecutive start for WKU in place of an injured Justice.

Justice was limited to eight total minutes during the Hilltoppers’ two-game road swing last week while dealing with a back injury he sustained while lifting weights earlier this month.

The IUPUI transfer remained unhealthy against the Monarchs, as Justice donned street clothes for the second consecutive contest.

All five of WKU’s starters reached double figures, but junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth led the way with a game-high 23 points while shooting a perfect 8 for 8 at the free-throw line.

The Lexington native also scored nine points in the final 38 seconds to help the Hilltoppers secure their fourth win in conference play.

“I know that we needed to make them,” Hollingsworth said about making free throws down the stretch. “You know, every time I got fouled, I just looked at the scoreboard telling myself, ‘We’ve got to make these if you want your team to win’ and so I did.’”

Junior guard Josh Anderson added 13 points, while redshirt senior wing Jared Savage contributed 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

Redshirt junior forward Carson Williams pitched in 12 points, and Rawls added 11 points for the Hilltoppers.

Old Dominion shot only 2-of-18 from distance, but the Monarchs outscored the Hilltoppers 48-32 inside the paint. The Monarchs outrebounded the Hilltoppers 40-28 despite WKU tying ODU at intermission with 18 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Jason Wade led the Monarchs with 22 points in 34:40 of action, and he also collected 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals.

Junior guard Malik Curry dropped 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 36:29 on the floor for the Monarchs, while redshirt junior guard Xavier Green added 11 points, two points and an assist.

Redshirt senior forward Aaron Carver won the opening tipoff for the Monarchs, which allowed Wade to score the game’s first points on an easy left-handed layup just 18 seconds into the contest.

Wade scored his second bucket of the night at the 19:06 mark, giving the Monarchs an early 4-0 lead over WKU.

After Anderson went 1 for 2 at the charity stripe at the 19:03 mark and the Hilltoppers missed their first four shots from the field, Williams battled in the paint and recorded the first WKU field goal of the game at the 16:46 mark, moving the score to 8-3. 

The Monarchs only averaged 61.4 points per game coming into Thursday’s game, but ODU scored 10 quick points by the 16:18 mark and jumped out to a 10-3 lead.

Savage knocked down his first triple of the night at the 15:58 mark to cut the ODU lead to 10-6.

ODU held a 14-6 advantage at the 14:40 mark after Curry sank a shot from distance, which reflected the six- to eight-point lead the Monarchs were able to maintain for well over four minutes of the first half.

While the Monarchs aimed to take a double-digit lead, WKU posted a scoreless streak that lasted 3:07 of clock time until Rawls converted both of his free throw attempts at the 9:16 mark, cutting the ODU lead to 18-12.

The Hilltoppers continued to chip away at the Monarch lead, as Hollingsworth drained a pair of free throws from the charity stripe.

Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Gambrell took an ODU defender off the dribble, nailing a smooth 18-foot jumper to trim the ODU lead to just 18-16 at the 8:01 mark.

WKU captured its first lead of the night when Hollingsworth drained a deep 3-pointer as the shot-clock was winding down at the 6:53 mark, giving the Hilltoppers a 19-18 lead.

The Monarchs went over 5:30 of clock time without a basket, allowing the Hilltoppers to produce an 11-0 run and take a three-point lead.

But sophomore forward Joe Reece scored his first points of the night at the 5:13 mark, cutting the Hilltopper lead to only 21-20.

As the final media timeout approached with 3:31 remaining in the first frame, WKU maintained its largest lead of the half at 27-22.

After the media timeout, both teams pushed the ball in transition and traded consecutive baskets. Reece converted both of his free throws with 47 seconds remaining in the first half, allowing ODU to trail WKU 31-28 at intermission.

ODU started the contest absolutely electric from the field, leading for 12:50 of clock time in the first half. The Hilltoppers used a lethal full-court press to their advantage, turning the Monarchs over six times in the first half.

The Monarchs shot 36.4% from the floor in the first half, but ODU was most dangerous when they attacked the basket, scoring 22 of its 28 first-half points inside the paint. 

Wade led the Monarchs with 12 points and six rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor in the opening half. Curry added eight points and six rebounds in 19 minutes of action.

The Hilltoppers started out the first half slow, but WKU finished the half shooting 44% from the field. Four different WKU players recorded at least five points in the opening half of play. 

Williams led the Hilltoppers in the first with eight points while batting in the paint to snag five rebounds. Hollingsworth chipped in with seven points in 19 minutes of action in the first half.

WKU and the Monarchs went into the halftime break tied with 18 rebounds apiece. Savage and Wade led both teams with six rebounds in the first half, while Savage was also the only player on either side to play the entirety of the first half.

Green scored the first points of the second half for the Monarchs as he hit a contested shot, but Rawls matched Green’s shot by draining a tough jumper as the shot clock expired. 

Just like the first half, the Monarchs poured in 10 points by the first media timeout. ODU regained its lead at the 17:51 mark when Curry drove into the paint and scored, giving the Monarchs a 34-33 lead at that point.

After Rawls’ made shot to start the half, the Hilltoppers allowed the Monarchs to mount an 8-0 run and claim a 38-33 lead over WKU at the 16:20 mark.

The Monarchs held a 40-33 lead at the 15:48 mark after WKU missed six straight shots, but Rawls broke a four-minute scoreless streak by draining a 3-pointer, cutting the Monarch lead to just 40-36 at the 15:06 mark.

Hollingsworth scored the next two baskets for the Hilltoppers, but WKU still trailed 44-40 at the 13:35 mark.

ODU pushed its lead back to seven points at the 11:55 mark when redshirt sophomore A.J. Oliver II scored his first points of the night on a 3-pointer. The Monarchs were 0 for 10 from 3-point land until Oliver II sank in his shot from distance.

ODU soon took its largest lead of the game at the 9:48 mark, leading the Hilltoppers 51-42. But Hollingsworth converted an old-fashioned three-point play just 34 seconds later, cutting the Monarch lead 51-45.

The Monarchs looked to extend their lead to eight points at the 8:43 mark, but Savage denied Curry’s shot at the rim to give the Hilltoppers possession once again.

ODU was able to extend its lead to eight points on its following possession, as Oliver II was fouled from behind the three-point line and went 2 for 3 from the foul line.

Anderson rocked the rim at the 8:03 mark, cutting ODU’s lead to 53-47 and also bringing Hilltopper fans to their feet with excitement after his dunk. 

But the Monarchs soon pushed their lead back to nine points, and ODU led the Hilltoppers 57-48 at the 6:54 mark.

The Hilltoppers went into the final five minutes trailing 59-50 until Anderson scored a left-handed layup, cutting the ODU lead to 59-52 at the 4:46 mark.

The Monarchs drained a 3-pointer at the 3:30 mark, taking a 64-52 lead and pushed its lead to double digits for the first time on the night.

Williams cut the Monarch lead to 64-54 at the 3:10 mark after finishing a layup to score his 12th points of the night.

The Hilltoppers reached the free-throw line at the 2:45 mark, but Anderson could only convert 1 of 2 shots from the line to trail the Monarchs 64-55.

WKU used a half-court press to turn the Monarchs over, which allowed Savage to polish off a three-point play and make the score 64-58 with 1:50 left in the contest.

Wade scored his 22nd point of the night at the 1:23 mark to give the Monarchs a 66-58 advantage over WKU late in the game.

The Hilltoppers still battled for the win, as Savage got fouled on his way to the basket and was rewarded with two shots from the charity stripe for his troubles.

The Bowling Green native converted both of his free throw attempts, cutting the Monarch lead to just 66-60 with 1:12 remaining.

WKU was able to successfully set up its full-court press after Savage’s final made free throw, which led to ODU turning the ball over with just over a minute left in the contest.

Anderson then made a pair of free throws with 57 seconds remaining in the game, which put the Hilltoppers down just 66-62.

Green was fouled on the other end with 46 seconds left, and he made both of his free throws to give the Monarchs a 68-62 lead.

Hollingsworth answered on WKU’s next possession with a pair of made free throws, making the score 68-64 with only 38 seconds remaining. 

The Hilltoppers forced a jump ball on the next ODU possession, which gave the Hilltoppers the ball back with 35 seconds left in the game.

Stansbury called a full timeout and drew a play up for Hollingsworth, who netted a jumper with 29 seconds left to trail ODU just 68-66.

The Hilltoppers fouled Carver with 18.4 seconds remaining. He only made 1-of-2 shots from the free-throw line, giving the Monarchs a slight three-point advantage.

Hollingsworth rushed the ball down the court after Carver missed his second free-throw attempt and was fouled with 11.8 seconds remaining. The Lexington native sank both of his shots from the line, allowing WKU to trail ODU 69-68.

ODU was forced into calling its last timeout of the game after Hollingsworth’s made free throw, as the Monarchs couldn’t initially get the ball in bounds.

The Hilltoppers gained one last possession, as WKU’s defense cornered an ODU player in front of the WKU bench.

Hollingsworth received the ball in the backcourt with nine seconds remaining, and he drove the length of the floor to score a layup in the paint with three seconds remaining.

After putting his team up 70-69 with a make, Hollingsworth swished one final free throw and helped his team secure a crucial two-point win in front of its home crowd.

Following the win, the Hilltoppers will remain at home and continue C-USA play against Charlotte (10-5, 4-0 C-USA) on Saturday.

The 49ers, sitting at first place in the league with an undefeated mark in C-USA play, will come to Bowling Green as part of their current three-game road trip, which began with a 77-75 win against Marshall (8-10, 2-3 C-USA) on Thursday.

Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. on Jan. 18. The game will be broadcast on Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network and ESPN3.

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