Hollingsworth leads WKU to win despite broken nose

Freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth (13) passes to senior Justin Johnson (23) during WKU’s game vs. Florida Atlantic in E.A. Diddle Arena on Feb. 8. Hollingsworth scored the most points on the team and played 37 minutes. 

Sam Porter

WKU bounced back from a loss to University of Texas-San Antonio with a 75-63 win over Florida Atlantic University, thanks to 20 points from masked freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth.

Leading up to the game, it was uncertain if Hollingsworth would play after suffering a broken nose in last week’s loss against University of Texas-San Antonio.

Head coach Rick Stansbury and company ordered a face mask that came in the day before the game, meaning Hollingsworth would be good to play. If the face mask protecting the broken nose bothered Hollingsworth, nobody could tell.

The Lexington native scored 20 points to lead WKU in scoring for the second consecutive game and help WKU pull away late for a victory over the Owls.

“He’s got one of the greatest abilities you can have … toughness,” Stansbury said of Hollingsworth. “Toughness overcomes a lot of things. He steps up and leads us in scoring tonight. For most guys it would be used as an excuse of why they can’t make shots or why they can’t defend. He never made an excuse. That’s what makes him special.”

Freshman guard Josh Anderson earned his first career start and made the most of it in the early minutes. With both teams struggling offensively, Anderson scored the Hilltoppers’ only six points in the opening five minutes as the game was tied 6-6. Both teams started slow offensively. The opening six points would be Anderson’s only points in 16 minutes of play.

“Josh did well,” Stansbury said. “He’s a guy that we have to keep trying to find ways to work him in because we need his athleticism.”

The two teams would trade buckets up until the 8:28 mark of the first half when the Hilltoppers made the game’s first run. Hollingsworth’s 3-pointer followed by a jumper highlighted a 10-2 run that gave WKU a 31-23 lead. Although it was tough to tell, Hollingsworth mentioned after the game that the mask bothered him at times.

“It was aggravating to be honest,” Hollingsworth said of playing with the mask “When I sweat it would slide down and I had to adjust it a lot throughout the game. I came in last night and got some shots up with the mask just to get an idea of what it would be like.”

The Owls would answer with a run of their own. FAU’s Justin Massey scored six of his 13 points during a 15-6 Owl run that would carry over into the second half and give FAU a 40-37 lead.

Hollingsworth would answer with a 3-pointer to tie the game and help WKU build themselves a 59-53 cushion with 6:17 remaining before Diddle became temporarily silent. Senior forward Justin Johnson, the C-USA leader in rebounds, went down with an apparent shoulder injury. Johnson was slow to get up and left the court temporarily, but returned and checked in just moments later. Johnson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

“He said he separated his shoulder, but I guess he popped it back in,” Stansbury said of Johnson. “He came right back in and knocked down a shot. He went back out there and played fine.”

The Owls got within four points with 3:59 to play before WKU’s final run put the game out of reach. Johnson hit a jumper shortly after re-entering the game and junior guard Lamonte Bearden drew the FAU defense towards him before finding graduate transfer forward Dwight Coleby wide open for a slam dunk with two minutes to play.

Hollingsworth’s 3-pointer with 1:25 to play gave WKU a 71-59 lead and would ultimately put the game out of reach as the Hilltoppers held on for the 75-63 victory.

The win improves WKU to 17-7 (9-2 Conference USA) and drops FAU to 10-14 (4-8 C-USA). The Hilltoppers are back in action on Saturday against Florida International University (11-14, 5-7 C-USA). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

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