Hilltoppers look to bounce back from loss to UTSA

WKU forward Dwight Coleby embraces guard Taveion Hollingsworth in the dying seconds of the Hilltoppers’ victory on Saturday, January 27. WKU beat Marshall 74-85 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Sam Porter

Coming off a 74-63 loss to a 13-11 University of Texas-San Antonio team, the WKU men’s basketball team has dug into a hole in terms of chasing the Conference USA regular season title.

The Hilltoppers (16-7, 8-2 C-USA) are tied with Old Dominion University for 2nd place in C-USA sitting behind Middle Tennesse State University which boasts a 10-1 C-USA record. The 11-point loss to UTSA was the largest loss of the season for WKU. The Hilltoppers return home to Diddle Arena on Thursday night when they host Florida Atlantic University. Despite the Owls’ 10-13 record, head coach Rick Stansbury isn’t taking the Owls lightly.

“They went to San Antonio and won. Thats all you need to know about them,” Stansbury said. “That’s something we couldn’t do. They’ve played a lot of people close. Middle Tennessee only beat them by four points. They’re a veteran team. They’ve got a seven-foot guy who can really score the basketball. Like every other team, you’ve got to be ready to play.”

That seven-foot player Stansbury mentioned is Ronald Delph, who averages 13 points per game. Delph’s 8.9 rebounds per game ranks third in C-USA, putting him right between Senior forward Justin Johnson’s 9.6 RPG and Graduate Transfer forward Dwight Coleby’s 8.7 RPG. Senior guard Justin Massey is averaging 12.7 PPG and Gerdarius Troutman is averaging 12.4 PPG. Over this past weekend, University of Texas-El Paso and UTSA both gave WKU fits by double-teaming Coleby and Johnson. In the loss to UTSA, Johnson didn’t score until the second half. Coleby was limited to under 10 points scoring.

Going forward, teams will likely continue to double team the big man duo in hopes of similar results as UTSA, meaning guys like freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth will have more pressure on them to score. Hollingsworth led WKU with 38 points in the last two games, including five second half 3-pointers in the second half against UTEP that were often kicked out from the inside by Coleby.

“His ability to recognize that double team and make that extra pass has been big for us,” Johnson said of Coleby. “Anytime you’re getting doubled, someone is always open. He stepped up and made big time passes especially for Taveion. He’s a big reason Taveion hit those shots in the second half of the UTEP game.”

Hollingsworth will look to bring his momentum from the weekend into Thursday night’s game, but that’s only if he plays. The Lexington native suffered a broken nose in a collision towards the end of the UTSA game. If he plays, he’ll have a different look with a mask to help protect his nose.

“He’ll be ready to go mentally. But at this point he’s not able to do anything,” Stansbury said of Hollingsworth. “There’s no way you can play the same with that mask on. How does he handle it? I’ve seen some guys handle it, some guys can’t handle it. Some guys really have a hard time playing with it. But I do know this, if anyone can handle it, he’s a tough young man and he’ll try to fight and push through it.”

The Hilltoppers and Owls tip-off at 8:30 in Diddle Arena.

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.