Strong bench effort helps Hilltoppers defeat Charlotte in conference opener

WKU head coach Rick Stansbury directs his team from the bench during the semifinals of the NIT Championship in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Matt Stahl

Coming off of a huge win in Diddle Arena against Wisconsin, WKU needed to create its own energy on the road at Charlotte. The Hilltoppers were able to do just that, cruising to a 68-50 victory.

The Hilltoppers were led by redshirt junior wing Jared Savage, who had a team-high 13 points, six rebounds and two assists. The Hilltoppers also got 23 points from the bench as well.

“Those minutes they got tonight,” Stansbury said. “Maybe the next game they don’t play but three or four, five minutes, but because of experience tonight, it helps us in that next game.”

One of the players who came off the bench was sophomore guard Jake Ohmer, who had 12 points to help make up for the absence of Marek Nelson, who is still suspended after his DUI arrest.

“Last game I got in, hit one,” Ohmer said after the game. “I’ve just been in the gym working as hard as I can, just trying to prove myself and get back and get rhythm and start playing more.”

The game started out neck and neck as an early 3-pointer by sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth matched one by Charlotte’s senior guard, Jon Davis, who came back with a jump shot to make the score 9-7 at the first media timeout.

Hollingsworth would finish the game with seven points. He led the team in rebounds with seven, as well as adding two assists.

The lead went back and forth for the middle part of the first half, with neither team able to claim it by more than three points. The big buckets for the Hilltoppers largely came from the paint early on, with points coming from freshman big men Charles Bassey and Tolu Smith and a big dunk by freshman guard Dalano Banton, who got off to a hot start, shooting 3 for 4 from the field to begin the game.

Bassey also got going quickly, going 4 for 5 from the field in the first half, which he ended with a team-leading nine points.

The Hilltoppers extended their lead later in the half, with a 3-pointer by redshirt junior guard Jared Savage and a long scoreless streak by the 49ers helping to get it up to 10 points with less than two minutes remaining in the first. Charlotte would cut it to nine before the end of the half, despite another 3-pointer by Savage, with the score ending up 34-25 at the break.

WKU had a difficult time stopping Davis in the first half, as he accounted for 18 of the 49ers’ 25 points.

In the second half, WKU got even further ahead. With Davis remaining the only scoring threat for the 49ers early in the half, the Hilltoppers started to roll, getting up by 19 off of strong performances by Banton and Savage.

A major key to the second half for WKU was shutting down Davis, who scored only six points in the second, finishing the game with 24. The only other player on the team who scored in double figures was freshman forward Dravon Mangum, who finished with 12.

In the end, the 49ers were unable to get close to the Hilltoppers, who won by 18. WKU finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field.

The Hilltoppers, who moved to 8-6 on the season and 1-0 in C-USA with the victory, will be back in action at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Old Dominion.

“I like our guys,” Stansbury said. “Where we’re at mentally, I like where we’re at going into this game.”

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