Hilltoppers take down Southern Miss on the road

Charles Bassey (23) celebrates after making a shot against Wisconsin in Diddle Arena Dec. 29 in Bowling Green. Bassey had 19 points and six rebounds in the win. 

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball team won its third straight contest on Thursday night with a 66-63 road victory over the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.

Freshman center Charles Bassey led the way for the Hilltoppers. He secured his ninth double-double of the season with 14 points and 17 rebounds. Junior wing Jared Savage tied the team lead in points with 14 of his own. Dalano Banton also gave the Hilltoppers good minutes with five points, seven rebounds, and three steals.

“They’re gonna play small,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said after the game. “Can we win that war playing big with Charles? “

For Southern Miss, forward Leonard Harper-Baker was the headliner. He also had a double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Guard LaDavius Draine added 15 points as well. Southern Miss’ leading scorer heading into this matchup, Cortez Allen could only manage eight points on 4-13 shooting.

WKU shot 45 percent from the floor to just 41 percent for Southern Miss. Although WKU turned the ball over 16 times, it won the rebounding margin 39-37. The Hilltoppers led for over 30 minutes in the game, including the entire second half.

Both teams struggling from the line with WKU going 8-16 and USM hitting a horrid 5-12 free throws.

WKU got off to a slow start. Southern Miss started with a 7-2 lead as the Hilltoppers missed three of their first four shots.

An 8-1 run propelled WKU in front. Led by sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth and freshman center Charles Bassey, the Hilltoppers took a 16-12 lead.

From that point on, the Hilltoppers dominated the half. WKU finished out the final 9 minutes of the half strong, going on a 18-9 run.

Junior wing Jared Savage knocked in a couple of 3-pointers to spur the run.

Bassey dominated the first half of basketball. He tallied a double-double in the first 20 minutes, scoring 10 points 11 rebounds.

“He can really rebound it,” Savage said of Bassey after the game. “He’s got a size advantage and he shows it.”

For Southern Miss, forward Leonard Harper-Baker scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.

After shooting just 32 percent from the floor in the first, Southern Miss woke up in the second half. The Golden Eagles had 16 points in the first five minutes compared to just 21 for the whole first half.

Draine hit his first four 3-pointer of the half, sparking a 18-7 run which got the Golden Eagles within three points.

WKU responded with five straight points out of a timeout and never looked back. Banton hit his seventh 3-pointer of the season during the flurry.

While Edwards got close several times, the Golden Eagles could not capitalize. 

“They made a run at us,” Stansbury said. “Cut it within tow, but our guys spurted back out and scored five straight points to go back up seven. Those are winning moments and winning plays.”

Senior guard Lamonte Bearden hit free throws down the stretch and sophomore guard Josh Anderson dunked in the dagger points that secured the WKU victory.

The Hilltoppers will look to continue their win streak at Louisiana Tech at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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