Despite getting off to an unbelievably hot start, the WKU men’s basketball team was unable to finish off its second Conference USA game at Old Dominion. The Hilltoppers let the Monarchs come back to get a 69-66 victory that dropped WKU to 1-1 in conference play.
WKU was led by freshman center Charles Bassey, who posted another double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth also put up 19 points while playing the full 40 minutes. ODU was led by B.J. Stith, who dropped 19 points and brought down 12 rebounds.
“We just hung in there,” ODU head coach Jeff Jones said after the game in an interview with Stadium. “Unfortunately this year, we’ve been a slow starting team. This has happened to us, maybe not 21 like that but these guys just keep hanging in there.”
The Hilltoppers got off to a quick start both offensively and defensively. WKU was leading 7-0 at the first media timeout, after the Monarchs missed their first nine shots from the field.
After the timeout, the Hilltoppers continued their dominance. ODU was unable to score for the first seven minutes of the game, and a 3-pointer by Bassey and three-point plays by Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson led to WKU getting out to a 21-0 lead before the first ODU basket.
After their long cold streak, the Monarchs managed to kick their game into gear for the next several minutes, making the score 26-14 at a timeout with 7:11 remaining following some WKU turnovers. Eventually ODU cut thee lead to single digits after missed shots by Anderson and Bassey.
The score was 30-24 in favor of the Hilltoppers at the 3:49 mark in the half, when Rick Stansbury called a timeout. At that point WKU had already turned the ball over 10 times.
The Monarchs continued their run of dominance late in the half, dropping the lead down to two points before Hollingsworth made a 3-pointer to regain a little of the momentum for the Hilltoppers.
Following a made shot by Bassey and an ODU offensive foul, the Hilltoppers went to the locker room leading 39-32. Anderson led the team in points in the first half, with 13, while Bassey added 11 along with eight rebounds.
“We got to quit turning the basketball over,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said in a halftime interview with Stadium. “Way too many self-inflicted turnovers and that’s what got them starting.”
Once the second half began, the Monarchs continued their streak, cutting the lead down to 41-40 before their run was ended by a Hollingsworth 3-pointer.
The Monarchs would again cut the lead to one point with less than 15 minutes remaining in the game before Anderson got the ball on a fast break and finished with one of his signature thunderous dunks and Bassey made a free throw to get it back up to four points.
The lead finished evaporating a few minutes later, as ODU’s senior guard B.J. Stith slam dunked the ball to tie the game at 49. Following a dunk by Bassey, ODU’s sophomore guard Justice Kithcard hit a 3-pointer to give ODU their first lead of the game.
Stith followed Kithcard with a 3-pointer of his own, his eighth straight made shot from the field. The Monarchs ended up on a 9-0 run before Stansbury called a timeout with 7:44 remaining in the game, with the Hilltoppers down 58-51.
WKU would find some offense and a 3-pointer by Bassey and free throws by Hollingsworth would tie the game, however another 3-pointer by Stith put the Monarchs back up by three with less than 2:30 remaining.
“We knew we weren’t going to crack,” Stith, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, said in a postgame interview with Stadium. “We knew the kind of character that the guys had in the locker room and we felt that we were gonna make a comeback at home.”
The Hilltoppers were unable to make up the deficit late in the game, and fell 69-66 to drop to 1-1 in C-USA play and 8-7 overall on the season.
The Hilltoppers will be back in action on Saturday at Marshall.
Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.