Inconsistency continues as Hilltoppers get upset by Troy

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.

Jeremy Chisenhall

Lamonte Bearden’s return was spoiled by an opportunistic and hot-shooting Troy team, as the Hilltoppers fell to Troy 87-81 just days after upsetting Arkansas on the road.

The Hilltoppers’ biggest struggles came from 3-point range, as they shot just 4-of-18 from deep. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth struggled mightily from deep, as he was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, but he still put up a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

WKU was also hurt by Troy’s 3-point shooting, as the Trojans shot 12 for 25 from deep, accounting for 44 percent of their points.

WKU was led by redshirt junior wing Jared Savage, who had 23 points and seven rebounds.

“Give Troy all the credit … they were better coached than us, they played harder than us, they did all the little things you have to do to win on the road,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “They jumped up and made plays when they had to make them, made shots when they had to make them.”

Both teams started slow, as WKU led 6-4 after the first 4:35. Over that time, neither team shot better than 22 percent from the field. Hollingsworth started his domination on the boards early, as he already had four rebounds in that first 4:35.

WKU stayed cold for several more minutes, as Troy went on an 8-0 run to stretch out a 12-7 lead. The Hilltoppers worked their way back and took a 20-17 lead when Bearden hit his first 3-pointer of the season. That was the Hilltoppers’ first 3-point make of the game, making them 1 for 6 from deep at that point.

That lead didn’t last long. After WKU expanded its lead to 25-21, Troy went on an 11-0 run to take back a 32-25 lead. Trojans forward Javan Johnson hit back-to-back 3-pointers on that run.

After the run, Jared Savage rattled off 11 straight points by himself, which included an and-one conversion and two 3-pointers. Hollingsworth ended the half with a buzzer-beating layup, cutting Troy’s lead to just three points at halftime (43-40).

Savage’s dominant run of 11 straight points made him WKU’s leading scorer at halftime with 13 points. Hollingsworth led WKU in rebounds with seven and Bearden had a team-high four assists at the break. The Hilltoppers attempted 17 free throws in the first half and went 15-of-17 from the stripe. Troy attempted just three first-half free throws, but made all three.

“You’ve got to be locked in defensively,” Stansbury said. “We gave up way too many drive-bys the first half. Just drive-bys. Layups.”

Troy jumped out on a 10-0 run early in the second half, pushing its lead to double digits and forcing a timeout from Stansbury. Despite snapping the run, WKU struggled to make any headway into Troy’s lead until around the halfway mark of the second half. The Hilltoppers made 6-of-8 field goals midway through the half to cut Troy’s lead back down to single digits, as they trailed 63-54 with 11:05 left to play.

“We always talk about the first four minutes of the second half, how we don’t really start it well, and it showed tonight,” Savage said. “We didn’t start well, they got a lead and we never recovered from that, so we’ve got to start the second half better.”

The two teams traded baskets and the differential lingered around the 10-point mark. The Hilltoppers failed to go on a significant run to cut into the deficit until the 1:29 mark. With less than a minute-and-a-half left, the Hilltoppers went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to four points. Sophomore forward Josh Anderson was a critical. A Savage layup a few moments later made it a one-possession game with 23 seconds remaining.

“It was go time,” Savage said of the run. “We either do that or we lose by 20.”

It was too little, too late for the Hilltoppers though, as Troy managed to make its free throws late and hold off the Hilltopper storm to win 87-81.

WKU will be back in action when it hits the road to take on Belmont Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

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