Hilltoppers’ second-half woes continue as they blow late lead against Marshall

WKU sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth (11) reacts to a foul being called on him during an exhibition match vs Kentucky Wesleyan in Diddle Arena on Nov. 3. Hollingsworth scored 24 points in the win.

Matt Stahl

Coming off a loss at Old Dominion in which Rick Stansbury’s squad blew a 21-0 lead to lose on the road, the Hilltoppers once again led most of the way but dropped to 1-2 in Conference USA play after losing the lead in the closing seconds to the Marshall Thundering Herd.

In a rematch of last season’s C-USA championship game, won by Marshall, the Hilltoppers’ loss was largely due to the problems that have plagued them all season: inconsistency and turnovers.

“We’ve gotta find ways to build,” Stansbury said after the game. “Do things we do for 40 minutes. Can’t do it for 30 minutes on the road against good teams. Can’t do it for 35 minutes. Gotta build and do it for 40 minutes on the road.”

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth was disappointed in the loss and emphasized the need to finish.

“Just play hard the entire game,” Hollingsworth said. “Forty minutes, you know a game’s 40 minutes.”

The Thundering Herd got off to a hot start, taking to a 7-2 lead before the Hilltoppers narrowed the gap, led by a 3-pointer from freshman guard Dalano Banton and points in the paint by freshman center Charles Bassey, one of whom’s dunks gave the Hilltoppers a 11-10 lead.

From there, the teams dueled back and forth until the first media timeout came with 14:02 left in the first half, with the Hilltoppers leading 15-13.

After the break, WKU expanded its lead, anchored by a 3-pointer from Hollingsworth and four points by freshman center Tolu Smith in relief of Bassey. The lead remained at five points with 8:05 remaining in the half, with turnovers keeping the Hilltoppers from extending it far, but turnovers by the Herd keeping WKU ahead.

The Hilltoppers got the lead up to 10 later in the half, aided by turnovers from the Thundering Herd and dunks from Bassey and Banton. With 5:27 remaining in the half, disaster seemed to strike for the Hilltoppers after Bassey went down with a leg injury after attempting to block a shot.

During the final five minutes of the half, the Hilltoppers continued to play well, expanding the lead to as much as 13 on the back of Marshall turnovers and strong minutes from Hollingsworth and senior guard Lamonte Bearden. The teams headed to the locker rooms at the break with WKU leading 42-31.

Despite Bassey’s return at the start of the second, the Hilltoppers came out flat offensively early in the half and the Thundering Herd were able to trim the lead, getting some solid offensive production from guard Jon Elmore. However, following the media timeout, WKU got it back up to 10 points on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Josh Anderson.

The Thundering Herd refused to go quietly, cutting the lead to 54-47 with 11:43 remaining, with much off the production coming from Elmore, who also contributed on defense, finishing the game with three steals.

Late in the game, Marshall took hold of the momentum, cutting the lead to two points with less than five minutes remaining after Elmore made a 3-pointer following two missed free throws by Anderson. The Hilltoppers were playing without Bassey after he picked up his fourth foul of the game.

The Hilltoppers maintained their slim lead late in the half, but Marshall cut it to two points with 2:57 remaining. Following WKU’s 18th turnover, the Thundering Herd tied it up on an alley-oop dunk from Elmore to sophomore forward Jannson Williams

The Herd took a 70-69 lead with 20 second remaining on a Williams 3-pointer. The Marshall lead held after the Hilltoppers failed to score off an inbound pass.

“Never should have been in that situation,” Stansbury said. “There’s a lot of plays way up before there.”

The Hilltoppers, who dropped to 8-8 on the season, will be back in action at 7 p.m. Thursday at Diddle Arena, taking on Florida International.

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