Hilltoppers go to four guards to get win after Coleby’s injury

Redshirt junior Lamonte Bearden lays up the ball after a break-away steal during WKU’s game vs. Florida Atlantic in Diddle Arena on Thursday, Feb. 8. Bearden scored 5 points and played 25 minutes of the game. 

Sam Porter

The WKU men’s basketball team took care of business on Saturday night, handling Florida International University 83-76 in Diddle Arena. But the win came with a bit of a different look. Graduate transfer forward Dwight Coleby left the game early with an apparent leg injury which left senior forward Justin Johnson as the only true post player on the floor for the majority of the game.

In Coleby’s absence, the Hilltoppers revealed a four guard lineup featuring graduate transfer guard Darius Thompson, junior guard Lamonte Bearden and freshman guards Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson. Despite not having Coleby in the game, head coach Rick Stansbury believes having four guards on the floor helped WKU get to the free throw line. The Hilltoppers shot 39 free throws compared to FIU’s 10 in Saturday night’s win.

“I thought it loosened us up by playing quick,” Stansbury said.“Normally we pass it inside to get people in foul trouble. We attacked it off the bounce and got in the double bonus early. We shot 31 free throws in the second half and 39 for the game. That’s a huge stat and it’s because we were smaller attacking the rim.”

Despite not starting the game, Bearden took on a bigger role than usual in Saturday’s win. The former Buffalo Bull played more at the point guard position, which is where Thompson usually plays. Bearden scored 15 points and dished out four assists. He didn’t turn the ball over once from the point guard position.

“Before the game, Darius told me I was going to be playing the one a little bit more tonight,” Bearden said. “I just took on the challenge and came ready to play. We play a little bit faster when its not so clogged up in the lane. I think we like playing smaller.”

The decision came after Thompson, the team’s leading scorer, had struggled scoring the basketball as of late. Stansbury wanted to put Thompson in a better position to score which meant moving the former Virginia guard on the wing and allowing Bearden to run the offense. Thompson scored 18 points after not even breaking double figures the previous three games.

“It’s been a long time since Darius scored good points for us,” Stansbury said. “We’ve always said, when Darius scores, that’s when we’re at our best. That’s why we wanted to get him off that point, but to do that you have to get Lamonte under control. Tonight, we had him under control.”

For the first time since his debut at Marshall back in January, Anderson gave WKU very valuable minutes. The former four-star recruit made his second consecutive start and made the most of it, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds while playing a career-high 29 minutes. With the Hilltoppers holding on to a 64-61 lead with 5:23 to play, Anderson’s putback slam as well as two free throws down the stretch helped WKU pull away from the Golden Panthers and remain tied for second place in Conference USA.

“It felt good playing 29 minutes and getting some more reps in,” Anderson said. “I’m learning a lot from the upperclassmen. They talk to me a lot and tell me what I need to do better. Just being able to watch them with their experience and stuff, I just try to soak it all in.”

With six games remaining in the regular season, expect to see personnel similar to this past Saturday, especially if Coleby isn’t healthy. As of now, WKU sits at 18-7 (10-2 C-USA) and is tied for second place with Old Dominion. The Hilltoppers travel to Denton, Texas to take on North Texas University on Saturday at 8 p.m.

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