Hilltoppers excited for postseason opportunity against Boston College

WKU Guard Taveion Hollingsworth (13) walks away following the Hilltoppers 67-66 loss in the championship game of the Conference USA tournament against Marshall University on Saturday March 10, 2018 at The Star in Frisco, Tx.

Sam Porter

Roughly 24 hours after suffering a heartbreaking 67-66 loss to Marshall in the Conference USA championship game, the WKU men’s basketball team learned its postseason fate.

After a 24-10 season that ended in heartbreaking fashion, the Hilltoppers were rewarded a four seed in the NIT tournament. There, they will host Boston College in the first round on Tuesday night in Diddle Arena.

WKU joins University of Southern California, University of Louisville, Notre Dame, Middle Tennessee State University, Saint Mary’s College and others in the NIT as teams left out of the NCAA Tournament. Although WKU didn’t accomplish their goal winning the C-USA and playing in the big dance, team members still say they are motivated to host a postseason game and make a postseason run.

​“I’m just excited to be back in Diddle, I had no clue I’d get another chance to play here,” senior forward Justin Johnson said. ​“The ultimate goal was to reverse that Marshall score by two points and us win the game by one, but things happen and it wasn’t the plan for us. But if you look at the NIT field, you can see it’s pretty competitive. There’s 100 teams between the NCAA Tournament and NIT out of over 300, so its a big deal to still be playing. I’m just excited to play more basketball.”

​Boston College visits Bowling Green with an overall record of 19-15 (7-11 ACC) including an 89-84 victory over Duke University, who was ranked number one in the nation at the time. The Eagles feature arguably the best scoring backcourt WKU has faced all season. Jerome Robinson (20.8 PPG) and Ky Bowman (17.8 PPG) make up one of the top scoring guard duos in the nation. The duo gave ACC opponents fits all year long and will look to do the same against the Hilltoppers.

Freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth will likely get the task of slowing down Robinson, who averaged 24.3 points per game against ACC opponents. Hollingsworth suffered a broken nose in the early moments of WKU’s loss in the C-USA championship game, but played through it and is expected to start against Boston College. The Eagles defeated Georgia Tech and North Carolina State in the opening rounds of the ACC tournament before a 90-82 loss to Clemson University ended their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.

​“They beat Duke when they were the number one team in the nation, that’s all you need to know about them,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury said. ​“I don’t know if there’s any team in the country that has better guards than these guys. This could be the best scoring backcourt in America and they’re probably the highest scoring backcourt of any Power 5 school.”

​With a first round victory, WKU would travel to Los Angeles, California to take on USC if the Trojans can avoid being upset by UNC-Asheville. With two more wins after that, the Hilltoppers would play in the final four, which takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York. 

​“I’ve been lucky enough to play there before,” Johnson said of having the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden. “My freshman year we played there over Thanksgiving. They call it the Mecca of Basketball, the New York Knicks sell it out whether they’re winning 10 games a year or 60. It’s a historical landmark in basketball.”

​WKU and Boston College tip off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Diddle Arena. It will be the first postseason appearance for the Hilltoppers since 2013. Single game tickets can be found at WKUTickets.com. WKU students get in free courtesy of WKU Athletics.

​“We’re glad the committee recognized what we did by giving us a four seed against an ACC opponent,” Stansbury said. ​“We’re excited to be in it. We know we’re going up against a good Boston College team, a team that won two ACC tournament games with two pro guards. We’re excited to be in it and to have a home game. There’s 250 teams at home and we’re not one of them.”

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.