Despite a late push, WKU couldn’t catch up to a Belmont team that buried the Hilltoppers early behind a hot 3-point shooting performance, as they fell to the Bruins 80-74.
BU’s shooting abilities were on full display, as the Bruins made 11 3-pointers over the course of the game. Freshman guard Grayson Murphy led the way with 20 points on five 3-pointers. The Hilltoppers struggled mightily in the same category, as they shot just 3-of-14 from deep for the night.
“I thought the difference in the game tonight was Murphy,” Stansbury said. “He was the total difference in the game. Some of those other cats are going to get their points … he was the difference in the game.”
Freshman center Charles Bassey led the way for WKU with a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Sophomore forward Josh Anderson also had 16 points and six rebounds.
Both teams started cold, as the first basket of the game didn’t come until the 17:51 mark of the first half. WKU jumped out to a 6-4 lead after the scoring drought finally broke, but BU stayed close and took its first lead of the game at 9-7 after a 3-pointer from senior guard Kevin McClain.
The lead traded hands a few times before senior wing Dylan Windler, freshman forward Caleb Hollander and junior guard Michael Benkert hit three 3-pointers in four possessions to give it to BU by an 8-point margin. Freshman center Nick Muszynski added another make from beyond the arc, which capped a run of 15 straight points from the 3-point line, and gave the Bruins a 29-19 lead.
“We went big, [Bassey] and [Tolu Smith] together,” Stansbury said. “That’s the first time we really go zone, but [Smith] can’t chase a four guy around. We went zone, and we were scoring at that end because [Smith] was giving us a little bit. We were getting two, but they were getting three, and there was about five trips in a row that they made threes.”
The Bruins stretched their lead to as much as 14 in the first half, as a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from freshman guard Grayson Murphy gave BU a 42-28 advantage going into the break.
WKU shot just 35 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 52 percent shooting from the field for the Bruins. BU was also 7-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Those seven 3-pointers came from six different players. WKU was just 1 for 8 from deep in the half. Anderson led the Hilltoppers in points with six at the half. Savage had a team-high five rebounds.
The start of the second half saw more of the same, as BU pushed its lead up to 19 points. That featured a 7-0 run and three more 3-pointers from Murphy. But WKU did put together a 13-0 run to cut the BU lead to just six points. But Murphy answered that run with yet another 3-pointer, his fifth of the game.
BU kept WKU at arm’s length for the next several minutes, as the Hilltoppers trailed by nine points at the 7:19 mark of the second half. The Bruins pushed the lead back to double digits with an and-one bucket from McClain, making it 69-57 with 6:06 remaining.
The Hilltoppers then committed four turnovers in a three-minute period. They also went through a scoreless drought of over two minutes before a bucket from Anderson cut BU’s lead back down to eight points.
Despite cutting the lead to four points again on an Anderson jumper, WKU couldn’t finish the comeback. BU hit its free throws late to put the game away.
“Going down by 19, coming back, we brought it to within four,” Anderson said. “That just shows how tough we can be. If we pull together and just play a full game like that, we’re going to be a real good team.”
WKU is back in action Saturday when the Hilltoppers host Saint Mary’s in Diddle Arena at 2 p.m.
“We’ve got to get ready again for a tough one Saturday afternoon against a really, really good Saint Mary’s team,” Stansbury said. They’re going to play spread, they shoot it, great guard play, can shoot that basketball, going to shoot a lot of threes.”
Editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.