Hilltoppers avenge loss, take down UAB on the road

Taveion Hollingsworth celebrates during the Hilltoppers’ 72-66 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Diddle Arena.

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball snapped its two game losing streak, beating Alabama-Birmingham on Thursday 73-67.

Head coach Rick Stansbury was pleased with the toughness his team showed late in the game.

“I thought the last 10 minutes of that game, our guys showed another level of toughness,” Stansbury said after the victory. “They dug into that gut. Like I said, that fine line lies in that gut. That’s just where it is. I thought our guys dug down.”

The Hilltoppers improve to 17-12 overall and 10-6 in Conference USA play. The Blazers drop to 17-2 overall and 9-7 in C-USA play.

WKU avenged its loss to the Blazers on Feb. 16, when the Blazers went into Diddle Arena and upset WKU 68-60. Sophomore guard Josh Anderson said he had that loss in the back of his mind during the final stretch of this matchup.

“Losing at our house, that was in the back of our heads,” Anderson said after the win. “Down the stretch, we locked in and came together and got the dub.”

Freshman center Charles Bassey had a huge game for WKU, recording 18 points, 13 rebounds, and a block. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half.

Anderson scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds. Junior wing Jared Savage scored 12 points and hit a couple 3-pointers.

Forward Lewis Sullivan led the way for UAB with 16 points and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Zack Bryant was held in check with just 13 points, five rebounds, and six assists. Forward Makhtar Gueye scored 10 points and hit a couple 3-pointers as well.

The Hilltoppers got back on track on the boards, winning the margin 35-29. WKU was also extremely efficient at the line, going 23-of-29, good for 79 percent. This is also the first time the Hilltoppers have broke 70 points in a game since Valentine’s Day when they defeated Middle Tennessee State 71-63.

UAB started the game hot, scoring the first six points of the contest. Jeremiah Bell accounted for four of the opening six points.

Gueye would extend the lead to seven with the first 3-pointer of the game.

Hollingsworth and Savage knocked in jumpers that spurred a 6-0 run and brough WKU within a point before Savage’s first 3-pointer of the game tied the score up at 11.

The teams would go back and forth as Anderson knocked in a jumper to once again tie the score at 20. UAB would respond with another 3-pointer from Gueye.

Sullivan’s layup would extend the UAB back up to seven, but the Hilltoppers wouldn’t be kept down..

WKU went on an 11-3 run capped off with a second Savage 3-pointer. UAB would close the half with a 6-0 run and took a 36-31 lead in halftime. Freshman forward Tavin Lovan scored four points in the span.

Savage and Bassey both had eight points each for WKU. Gueye and Sullivan matched the Hilltopper performers with eight each as well for the Blazers.

UAB shot  51 percent from the floor in the first half and outrebounded WKU 17-14. Both teams took care of the ball for the most part, with just seven combined turnovers.

Bryant came out of the locker room firing with a made 3-pointer early in the half which extended the UAB lead to seven. Bassey got going as a result and brought WKU within two with a couple of buckets in the paint.

Sullivan hit a jumper and a pair of free throws after WKU got within a point to extend the UAB lead yet again.  Bryant scored again to cap off the Blazers 6-0 run that extended the lead back to seven.

Led by Hollingsworth, the Hilltoppers answered with a 9-2. The teams traded blows with made 3-pointers from Hollingsworth and Jalen Perry.While Hollingsworth kept the Hilltoppers in the game, Senior guard Lamonte Bearden tied the game at 57 with a pair of free throws.

After Anderson converted a 3-point play, the Hilltoppers finally took the lead and never looked back. Even when Bell tied the game at 62 with bucket and a foul, Hollingsworth put the Hilltoppers back on top for good with a made 3-pointer.

Anderson made three of four free throws to close out the game and give the Hilltoppers a seven point victory.

Hollingsworth said the Hilltoppers had to dig deep in order to overcome the Blazers even with trailing most of the contest.

“We grinded it out,” Hollingsworth said after the game. “When it comes down to that and you’re fighting back to win the game, you know what you gotta do. Play hard. Play defense. Convert on offense.”

The Hilltoppers will look to extend the winning streak to two on Sunday against Southern Mississippi. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Men’s basketball reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.