Seniors go out in style as Hilltoppers roll past Old Dominion

Senior forward Justin Johnson (23) looks to pass to a teammate during WKU’s game vs. Florida Atlantic in E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday Feb. 8, 2018. Johnson scored second highest amount of points on his team and played 35 minutes. 

Sam Porter

The WKU men’s basketball team dominated Old Dominion University on Saturday night in the final home game for senior forward Justin Johnson and graduate transfers Dwight Coleby and Darius Thompson, winning 88-66.

Both teams entered the game tied for second place with 13-2 records in Conference USA play, meaning the Hilltoppers now hold sole possession of second place. The Hilltoppers gashed C-USA’s number one scoring defense, scoring the most points ODU has allowed all season. The 20-point loss is also the largest loss ODU has suffered all season and snaps the nation’s longest road winning streak.

“I think we’re playing our best right now,” Coleby said. “Everyone is trusting each other and we’re playing with a lot of confidence. We’re just happy to be out there and able to perform every night.”

Just moments after being honored for senior night and proposing to his girlfriend (who said yes), Johnson let the Monarchs know early on that he would not be denied in his final game in Diddle Arena. The Hazard native hit his first five shots, including a 3-pointer off an assist from Thompson to help WKU build an early 19-5 lead. Johnson finished the game with 19 points and 11 rebounds in his final game in front of a Hilltopper crowd.

“He got us off to an unbelievable start,” Stansbury said of Johnson. “All the other guys were just as good energy-wise, Justin was just scoring for us. He had that look in his eyes and unbelievable confidence.”

The scoring barrage continued as Johnson hit another jumper to give him 14 points in the first eight minutes of play. ODU guard B.J. Stith would answer with a jumper of his own before freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth followed with a 3-pointer to give WKU a 26-9 lead. The two teams would continue to trade buckets the rest of the first half as the Hilltoppers held on to a 46-30 halftime lead.

Hollingsworth opened the second half with a steal before finding Johnson for an alley-oop layup to push the lead to 18 points and ignite a similar start as the first half. Freshman guard Josh Anderson’s layup with 9:46 to play capped off a 23-11 run out of the gate and pushed the lead to 28 points.

“I thought the most important part of the game was the first four minutes of the second half,” Stansbury said. “We came out after having a big halftime lead and built on the lead. That’s when you break someone’s back. When you let them hang around they can build confidence. But we were able to come out and put that game away pretty quick.”

Thompson’s 3-pointer with 1:35 to play was the ultimate nail in the coffin. Stansbury called a timeout following Thompson’s 3-pointer in order to sub out Thompson and Johnson and give the two a standing ovation as they walked off the court in Diddle Arena for the last time.

“This place means so much to me having played here for four years,” Johnson said. “No better way to end it than with Darius hitting a shot like that and coach calling timeout and us getting a standing ovation walking off the court. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

The win improves WKU to 22-7 (14-2 C-USA) and drops ODU to 22-6 (13-3 C-USA). The Hilltoppers are back in action on Thursday at No. 24 Middle Tennessee State University. The Blue Raiders defeated WKU 66-62 earlier this season in Diddle Arena. 

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