Hilltoppers flip the script, overcome double-digit deficit to snap three-game losing streak

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

Jeremy Chisenhall

WKU never had a big lead to give up on Saturday, but the Hilltoppers managed to hang on against Florida Atlantic and snap their three-game losing streak with a 72-66 win.

The Hilltoppers were led by sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth, who had 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field, as well as five rebounds. Freshman center Charles Bassey put up a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He also had three blocks, which gave him the program’s freshman record for blocks in a season (45).

Sophomore forward Josh Anderson (15) and redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden (11)  also reached double-figures scoring on the afternoon.

“We found a way to get over a one-possession game and win,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Those are learning and growing moments for us, and again I like the look of our team.”

WKU started slow, as FAU opened the game on an 11-2 run. The Owls shot 80 percent from the field and 100 percent from 3-point range during that run. That hot 3-point shooting continued for much of the first half, as the Owls opened a 12-point lead at the 9:22 mark of the first half thanks to eight made 3-pointers at that point.

WKU managed to stay within reach thanks to a quick 5-0 spurt with a 3-pointer from Hollingsworth and a layup from redshirt junior wing Jared Savage. The Hilltoppers later got on a 6-0 run that cut the lead to six with 2:41 left in the half, but FAU answered with yet another 3-pointer from senior guard Anthony Adger. Both teams traded baskets at the end of the half and the Hilltoppers were down 40-34 at the break.

Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers at the half with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and three rebounds. WKU was shooting 48 percent from the field at the break, but FIU stayed hot from deep, as the Owls were converting at a 59 percent clip from 3-point range.

“I can’t try to force the game to come to me,” Hollingsworth said. “I start my offense on defense. I want to play defense, make sure my man isn’t scoring. Then, if I’ve got a shot, I’m going to shoot it, most likely. I let the game come to me.”

The Hilltoppers tied the game back up right out of the break with a 6-0 run. Bassey gave the Hilltoppers their first lead of the game with a three-point play, which put WKU up 43-41 with 14:54 remaining. FAU jumped back in front with a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner by graduate transfer guard Xavian Stapleton.

The two teams traded baskets from that point on until WKU went on a 6-0 run to take a four-point lead, its largest of the game. That forced a timeout from FAU.

But the Hilltoppers couldn’t pull away from FAU, as the Owls stuck around and tied the game back up at 62 with 4:10 left thanks to another 3-pointer from Stapleton. That was FAU’s 14th 3-pointer of the game, and it gave Stapleton 17 points for the game.

Savage broke the deadlock with a 3-pointer of his own, and that launched a 7-0 run that gave WKU some breathing space. That run was largely the deciding factor in the game, as the Hilltoppers used that lead to hold the Owls off for the final moments.

“We knew we could win the game, it was just about finishing,” Bearden said. “That’s what we did tonight.”

WKU continues its run of three games in five days when it takes on Marshall in Diddle Arena Monday. The Hilltoppers lost to the Thundering Herd 70-69 when the teams matched up on Jan. 12.

“We’re real excited,” Bearden said. “We know it’s going to be a great environment, we hope everybody can come out and show support, but it’s going to be a great one.”

Digital managing editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.