Hilltoppers cruise to victory over North Texas in C-USA quarterfinals

WKU guard Taveion Hollingsworth (11) takes a shot against North Texas at the Ford Center at The Star March 14 in Frisco, Texas. Hollingsworth scored 23 points and snagged 3 rebounds and 1 assist in 36 minutes during the Hilltoppers‘  win.

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball team cruised to a 67-51 win over the 10th-seeded North Texas Mean Green in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament.

Head coach Rick Stansbury said the defense was the key to the dominant win.

“It all started at the defensive end for us,” Stansbury said after the win. “We gave up 15-16 points at halftime. I thought we were really locked in.”

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth showed up in a big way for the Hilltoppers. The Lexington native scored a game-high 23 points and knocked down two 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Josh Anderson struggled from the floor making just three of 11 shots, but scored 13 points and grabbed seven board as well. Freshman center Charles Bassey scored nine points, grabbed eight boards, and blocked four shots.

Although Anderson couldn’t find his mark from the floor, he kept his aggressive mindset throughout the game, earning 12 free throw attempts.

“That’s pretty much my game,” Anderson said after the victory. “Coach always tells me to stay aggressive, so anytime I feel like I can drive into the lane, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Junior guard Ryan Woolridge led the way for North Texas with 14 points, dished six assists, and grabbed five rebounds. Senior guard Jorden Duffy scored 11 points and grabbed seven boards. Sophomore forward Zachary Simmons scored eight points and grabbed 13 boards.

North Texas struggled on offense all game long. The Mean Green shot only 30 percent from the floor and 18 percent from three.

WKU won the rebounding war 42-40 and made 20 free throws to just 10 for North Texas.

Duffy got the scoring started with a jumper in the lane before Anderson got going for the Hilltoppers and scored the team’s first five points, including a bucket and foul.

The Hilltoppers opened up an early 7-2 lead after a Bassey layup. The Mean Green went on a scoring drought of over four minutes after making the game’s first bucket.

Neither team was very efficient on the offensive end early. North Texas started the game one of its first eight and WKU was not much better at two of six.

D.J. Draper ended the scoring drought for the Mean Green after making the game’s first 3-pointer. North Texas pulled within three.

Hollingsworth answered the Mean Green with a 3-pointer of his own and extended the Hilltopper lead to six. The Lexington native added a bucket and a foul the next possession. WKU led 14-5 with 13 minutes left in the half.

Moustapha Diagne scored his second bucket of the season and WKU held its largest lead so far at 10.

Hollingsworth stayed hot with a mid-range jumper that extended the lead to 12.

Gibson got his first bucket of the game to stop the bleeding for North Texas. Jake Ohmer responded with his first 3-pointer to put WKU up 21-8.

North Texas was unable to get into a rhythm offensively. The Mean Green had eight turnovers to just three made field goals in the first 12 minutes.

A Tolu Smith tap-in ballooned the lead to 16 and forced a North Texas timeout with 6:57 left in the halftime.

Ryan Woolridge got his first bucket of the game as the Mean Green finally got to double-digit points in the game.

WKU maintained its 16 point lead into the final media timeout of the half.

Jared Savage hit his first 3-pointer of the game and WKU had a 19 point lead with less than three minutes left in the half.

Simmons helped North Texas get within 15 of WKU late in the half.

Even with the late surge from North Texas, WKU still led 31-16 at halftime.

The Hilltopper’s defense stifled the Mean Green in the first half. North Texas shot only 25 percent from the floor and turned the ball over a whopping 11 times.

Hollingsworth led all scorers with 10 points in the first half. Anderson scored eight, six of which came at the line. Bassey was limited to just two points and four rebounds due to foul trouble.

Duffy led North Texas with just four first half points. Simmons led the Mean Green in rebounds with six to go along with two points.

Savage opened the second half with his second 3-pointer. Anderson extended the lead to 20 with a lay-in, giving WKU its largest lead of the game.

North Texas finally began scoring in the second half, knocking down two if its first five shots and a couple free throws. Woolridge go going with five straight points.

North Texas forced a Stansbury timeout after Smart cut the lead to 13. The Mean Green had made three straight field goals.

WKU would respond. Bearden stopped the run with a bucket in the paint and Hollingsworth added another 3-pointer. WKU led 45-27 at the first media timeout.

Hollingsworth pinned this sequence as key for the Hilltoppers to pull out the eventual win.

“Teams are gonna go on runs,” Hollingsworth said after the game. “You just gotta find ways to get around it and overcome it. That’s what we did.”

North Texas would not go away. Woolridge scored his eighth point of the half with his second 3-pointer.

The teams would stall out offensively in the middle of the second half. Both teams went almost three minutes without a field goal.

Hollingsworth broke the streak for the Hilltoppers with a floater. Woolridge scored on the other end for North Texas.

WKU maintained its double-digit lead into the third media timeout, 52-36.

Anderson knocked in a jumper to extend the WKU lead to 18 yet again.

Buckets from Duffy and Simmons cut into the WKU lead. The Hilltoppers were up 56-42 with under minutes to play.

Bearden found Bassey for the alley-oop slam for the exclamation point. The Hilltopper led by 16 at the final TV timeout.

WKU would go on and cruise to a 67-51 victory.

The Hilltoppers advance to the semifinals on Friday afternoon and will play Southern Mississippi. Tipoff is slated for 3:00 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. 

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie