Strong second half helps Hilltoppers pull away from Tennessee State

WKU forward Josh Anderson throws down a dunk during WKU’s 88-74 win over Tennessee State. Anderson had 15 points. 

Alec Jessie

Despite a heaping number of turnovers, the WKU men’s basketball team rode a hot free-throw shooting performance to an 88-74 win over Tennessee State. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Hilltoppers.

Redshirt junior Jared Savage led WKU (4-3) in points with 20. Sophomore forward Josh Anderson broke out of his scoring slump with 15 points, all of which came in the second half. The Hilltoppers held a significant edge at the free-throw line as they shot 36-of-45 from the charity stripe. Those were the most free throws WKU has shot since their matchup against North Texas on Feb. 15, in which the Hilltoppers shot 48 free throws. TSU was 19-of-25 from the free-throw line. WKU also held TSU to just 28 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“That was a huge stat for us,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “They came in averaging 11 threes a game. We held them to five. Huge stat. The other stat we had to win tonight was the free throw war. And we won that.”

Graduate transfer forward Desean Murray said Stansbury emphasized the free throw battle among other areas ahead of this matchup.

“Last week’s game we did not come out with any energy at all,” Murray said. “So that’s what he emphasized the whole week. We have to come out with energy and get to the free throw line.”

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth got the scoring started for the Hilltoppers, hitting his first two shots. But an early 6-0 run gave the Tigers a 9-8 lead. TSU made its first four shots.Murray gave the Hilltoppers the lead with a put back and a foul. Murray had seven early points.

Freshman center Charles Bassey got in on the scoring action with his third 3-pointer of the season. Tennessee State’s Stokley Chaffee Jr. answered with back-to-back dunks.

A three-minute TSU scoring drought allowed the Hilltoppers to extend the lead to 19-13 at the under-12 minute media timeout.

Kamar McKnight brought the Tigers within three points with a 3-pointer, which forced a WKU timeout. Murray got the crowd in the game with a forced foul on a dunk attempt. WKU clung to a three-point lead at the final media timeout of the half.

Hollingsworth got the WKU offense back on track as the sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer and a couple of free throws.

The Hilltoppers took a 38-33 lead into halftime. Both Savage and Hollingsworth led WKU in scoring with 11 points each. McKnight led the way for the Tigers with 12 points.

Turnovers were the story of the first half, as both teams combined for 22 giveaways. The Hilltoppers held a steady edge in the free throw margin, getting to the line 21 times, compared to just seven for TSU.

WKU opened the second half hot with an 8-2 run in the first three minutes. Murray had multiple baskets around the rim and Hollingsworth added a 3-pointer.

Anderson came alive in the second half with six quick points, three of which came at the line. The Tigers drew within eight thanks to a three-minute field goal draught for WKU. Tolu Smith responded with back to back buckets in the paint.

The Hilltoppers maintained a 10 point lead at the third media timeout of the second half. But the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to draw within six, a run in which Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey led the surge.

Anderson got the crowd on its feet after back-to-back baskets including a breakaway jam.

A pair of Marek Nelson free throws and a Jared Savage layup helped the Hilltoppers pull away with under three minutes left in the game.

Anderson closed out the game with a posterizing and-one dunk.

“We love the energy in Diddle,” Anderson said. “So anytime we make a big play or something like that, we try to get them into the game.”

WKU is back in action next Wednesday as the Hilltoppers hit the road to take on Missouri State. The Bears defeated WKU 85-80 in last year’s season opener.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.