Hot 3-point shooting helps Hilltoppers take down Golden Eagles

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollinsworth looks for a passing lane during the Hilltoppers’ 76-71 victory over Southern Mississippi on Sunday in Diddle Arena.

Matt Stahl

WKU’s men’s basketball squad took down Southern Mississippi 76-71 on Sunday, anchored by their 3-point shooting, making 11 shots from beyond the arc, their most since Jan. 3 against Charlotte.

“We hadn’t got to the finish line this way in a long time,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said after the game. “What I mean by that, making some threes. It’s not many nights we’ve walked in here and made 11 threes.”

The Hilltoppers scored the first points of the game on a layup by sophomore wing Josh Anderson, but the lead was short lived as the Golden Eagles hit a 3-pointer on the next possession.

The Hilltoppers took back the lead when sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth made a jumper just before the first media timeout, drawing the foul in the process. The free throw made the score 8-7, which WKU extended with a putback by freshman center Charles Bassey and a 3-pointer by senior guard Lamonte Bearden.

Hollingsworth finished the game with 21 points, five rebounds and an assist.

“Taveion’s been killing it lately,” junior wing Jared Savage said. “That’s what we need from him down the stretch. To go do what we’re trying to do, we need Taveion to be playing like this.”

WKU held on to the lead until seven minutes remained the half, aided by two more Bearden 3-pointers. Southern Miss went up 25-24 on a 3-pointer by senior guard Kevin Holland. WKU quickly went back up on an Anderson layup but the lead would change hands several more times during the ensuing minutes.

USM led 31-29 at the final media timeout of the half. The Hilltoppers tied it up on a Bassey putback but the Golden Eagles moved back in front on a 3-pointer by senior guard Dominic Magee.

The Golden Eagles held the lead for the rest of the half, despite the Hilltoppers drawing within one point at times, the score at the break was 39-37. Bearden led WKU in points at the half, with nine, all of which came from 3-pointers.

Following the halftime break, the Hilltoppers briefly tied the game up on two Anderson free throws, before Southern Miss went back out in front with a Tyree Griffin layup and a Holland 3-pointer. WKU finally took the lead with 15 minutes remaining on consecutive 3-pointers by Savage, who finished 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, and Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth extended the WKU lead soon after, making a jumper on a fast break, stealing the ball at the other end and making a second fast break jumper in rapid succession.

The Golden Eagles came roaring back with a 9-0 run to tie the game, but the Hilltoppers, aided by two dunks from freshman center Tolu Smith took the lead back quickly. WKU led 66-63 with 4:30 remaining.

The Hilltoppers took advantage of a Southern Miss scoring drought to extend the lead, using Hollingsworth’s third 3-pointer of the day to go up 71-65 with less than three minutes remaining.

The Golden Eagles finally snapped their scoring streak and brought the score within three points with 1:04 remaining, when Anderson attempted to get the ball to Bassey on with a pass that was intercepted by Griffin. On the ensuing possession, freshman forward Ladavius Draine sunk a layup to bring Southern Miss within one.

On their next trip down the court, Savage sunk a 3-pointer to give the Hilltoppers a four-point advantage with 14 seconds remaining. After a WKU steal led to sophomore forward Marek Nelson, in his first game since the Hilltoppers played Florida International on Jan. 16, getting fouled on a shot, the game ended with a 76-71 Hilltopper victory.

“It’s very important,” Hollingsworth said. “We’re gonna take all the wins we can get. For us to be winning down the stretch all the way to the end of the season is really gonna help us.”

The win moved WKU to 18-12 on the season, 11-6 in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers will be back in action on Wednesday in Diddle Arena, taking on Texas-San Antonio in their last game before the C-USA tournament.

Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.