Hilltoppers drop 1st home game, cap non-conference slate with 17-point loss to Belmont

Photo courtesy of Evan Brown/WKU Athletics

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team (7-5) dropped its first game in Bowling Green this season on Saturday night, as the Hilltoppers completed non-conference play with a disappointing 79-62 home loss to Belmont (9-4) in Diddle Arena.

WKU is now 4-8 all-time against the Bruins and has lost seven straight, including losses in each season dating back to the 2014 campaign. The Hilltopper basketball program hasn’t picked up a win over Belmont since a 67-64 victory in Diddle Arena on Nov. 30, 1998.

Head coach Rick Stansbury, who moved to 1-4 in his career against Belmont with the loss to another tenacious Bruin squad, said his team didn’t move the ball well in the first half.

“We can’t beat people scoring 24 points in a half and being as inefficient as we were,” Stansbury said. “We have to score points. We’re not going to shut people down defensively — that’s not going to be who we are. We know those liabilities that we’ve got, but offensively, we’ve got to be more efficient than we were tonight.”

The Hilltoppers struggled to score the ball on the Bruin defense, as WKU only shot 34.8% from the field, 22.2% from distance and 66.7% from the free-throw line.

WKU scored 17 second-chance points and tied Belmont 13-13 in fast-break points, but the Hilltoppers couldn’t overcome their massive size disadvantage down low.

Redshirt junior forward Carson Williams led the Hilltoppers with 12 points and seven rebounds in 32:09 of playing time. Junior guard Josh Anderson added 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Hilltoppers.

Redshirt senior wing Jared Savage was the only other Hilltopper player to reach double digits, tallying 10 points and seven rebounds in 37:57 for WKU.

“Like coach said in the locker room, we’ve just got to share the ball better,” Savage said. “Just moving the ball, we have enough talent on offense that we can score a lot of points. So, we just got to do that. We’ve got to take advantage of people’s abilities and just score the ball better.”

The Bruins led for 37:27 of game action, mounting as much as a 19-point advantage over a jetlagged WKU squad that looked out of sorts for most of the second half.

Belmont outrebounded the Hilltoppers 45-35, outscored WKU 36-32 in the paint and went 11 for 28 from beyond the arc for a solid 39% three-point performance.

All five members of Belmont’s starting lineup reached double figures, but graduate forward Tyler Scanlon led the Bruins with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal.

Sophomore Nick Muszynski, who was named the Preseason Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year by Blue Ribbon and Street & Smith, nabbed another double-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in 30:44 of playing time.

Senior guard Michael Benkert scored 15 points on five made 3-pointers, while sophomore guard Grayson Murphy — the brother of redshirt junior guard Patrick Murphy — racked up 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for Belmont.

Muszynski won the opening tip for the Bruins, but both teams were unable to score on their first few possessions.

Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth broke a scoreless tie after taking Benkert off the dribble, as the Lexington native spun in the paint and finished an easy layup at the 18:12 mark.

Belmont was held scoreless until the 17:27 mark, but the Bruins then scored on their next four possessions and took an early 11-4 lead over WKU at the 15:44 mark.

The Hilltoppers started a short 4-0 run when freshman Jordan Rawls checked into the contest after the first media timeout, and the 6-foot-1-inch guard was able to pencil his name into the scoring column just seven seconds after taking the court.

Joining Rawls off the bench was senior forward Matt Horton, and the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native scored on the next possession to cut the Bruin lead to 11-8 at the 13:52 mark.

Belmont produced a short 5-0 run until Anderson battled for an offensive rebound and scored to trim the Bruin lead to just 16-10 with 11:35 remaining in the half.

Anderson would again chip away at the Belmont lead, intercepting a pass at midcourt that eventually led to a monster slam dunk at the other end. The 6-foot-6-inch guard scored again on a midrange jumper to cut the Bruin advantage to 20-15 at the 8:10 mark.

Belmont held an eight-point lead at the 12:10 mark, and the Bruin advantage continued to swell after graduate forward Tyler Scanlon nailed back-to-back 3-pointers and gave the Bruins a 29-19 lead over WKU at the 2:47 mark.

The Bruins finished the first half out strong by taking a 15-point lead with just 33 seconds remaining, but Rawls hit a much-needed 3-pointer in the left corner just before the halftime buzzer sounded and allowed WKU to trail the Bruins 36-24 at the break.

Belmont forced WKU to shoot just 33.3% from the field in the first half, and the Hilltoppers only converted 1-of-12 shots from behind the arc.

Scanlon was the only player in the game to reach double figures in the first half, as he led all scorers with 11 points while picking up four rebounds to lead Belmont. The 6-foot-7-inch forward also knocked down three of his four 3-pointers in the first half.

As a team, the Bruins shot 45.2% from the floor in the first half and an impressive 41.2% from behind the arc, a statistic that included four different Bruins connecting for a 3-pointer in the first half of action.

For WKU, seven different players scored in the first half. But not one Hilltopper was able to tally more than the six points Anderson collected in his 17 minutes of action.

WKU was unsuccessful on its first three-point attempt of the second half, but Hollingsworth knocked down a shot from distance after Williams corralled an offensive board.

Hollingsworth scored again on the next possession to cut the Belmont lead to 36-29 just 54 seconds into the half, but the Bruins answered with a 5-0 run of its own and expanded its lead to 41-29 at the 18:29 mark.

Savage carried WKU on its next two possessions, as the Bowling Green native electrified Diddle Arena with back-to-back 3-pointers and brought the Hilltoppers to within six at the 17:33 mark, 41-35.

The Hilltoppers later trimmed the Belmont lead to a five-point margin, but the Bruins scored on their next possession and carried a 44-37 lead into the first media timeout of the half.

After shooting poorly from distance in the first half, the Hilltoppers tripled their amount of 3-pointers made after just 2:30 of clock time in the second period.

The Bruins handled WKU’s early offensive explosion by mounting an 8-0 run to take a commanding 50-37 lead at the 14:34 mark.

Hollingsworth ended the Belmont scoring run by driving the ball into the lane and scoring an easy right-handed layup at the 13:34 mark.

Horton slammed home an emphatic dunk while being fouled at the 13:01 mark, and the big man converted the old-fashioned three-point play at the charity stripe to trim the WKU deficit to 10.

Belmont stretched its lead back out to 13 until Williams converted a three-point play on the other end to cut the Bruin lead to 57-47 at the 9:50 mark.

The Bruins paced together a 5-0 run to build a comfortable 64-49 lead over WKU with just under eight minutes remaining in the contest.

Benkert drained back-to-back 3-pointers to put the game out of reach for the Hilltoppers, and Belmont then held a 70-51 lead with 5:42 left in the game.

Graduate guard Camron Justice struggled from the floor for most of the night, but he drained his first 3-pointer of the game with just over four minutes left to play.

Neither team mounted much more offense, as the Bruins cruised to a convincing 17-point margin over the Hilltoppers and earned their ninth win of the season on the road.

Following the loss, WKU will be off for a few days before opening Conference USA play at home against North Texas (6-7) on Jan. 2.

The Hilltoppers and Mean Green last met on March 14, 2019. WKU ended North Texas’ season with a 67-51 victory in the quarterfinals of the 2019 C-USA Tournament in the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. On that night, Hollingsworth scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor.

Tipoff in Diddle Arena is set for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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