WKU men’s basketball used a 15-0 run over the last 4:39 of the game to defeat Marshall 85-74, the Hilltoppers’ second win over the Thundering Herd this year.
Graduate transfer guard Darius Thompson led WKU with 20 points while graduate transfer forward Dwight Coleby scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Freshman guard Jake Ohmer (12 points) and junior guard Lamonte Bearden (12 points) also broke double figures in the victory.
“They came in here with a chip on their shoulder after what happened last time at their place,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury said of Marshall. “We knew how good they were playing. They just beat UAB and Middle Tennessee, something we couldn’t do. We knew we were going to get their best shot and we did. They played exceptionally well.”
With the game tied at 16 with 9:52 left in the first half, Bearden helped bring Diddle to life. Following a Marshall bucket, Bearden beat everyone else back and Thompson threw a full-court pass for an easy bucket. On the ensuing in-bounds pass, Bearden stole the ball and found freshman guard Josh Anderson in stride towards the bucket. The four-star recruit leaped in the air and threw down a dunk right in front of the WKU student section to ignite a fire in the crowd. Those were two of Anderson’s four points in the game. He played 10 minutes.
A technical foul on Marshall’s John Elmore followed. Freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth hit two free throws to give the Hilltoppers a 22-16 lead. Just like that, WKU built a six point cushion in a span of 21 seconds.
“He had the attitude in the 1st half. He made some plays out there and helped us get the lead in the first half,” Stansbury said of Anderson. “But when the game tightens up, there’s no margin of error. It’s about trusting guys without a learning curve.”
Maintaining a 41-32 lead with 1:01 to play, the Hilltoppers looked to go into the half with a double digit lead. But two Elmore free throws and a C.J.Burks 3-pointer right before the buzzer cut WKU’s lead to 41-37 heading into the break.
Burks led all scorers with 13 points at the half, but he was just getting started. After WKU pulled ahead 50-40 early in the second half, Burks scored 14 points during a 21-8 Thundering Herd run to give Marshall its first lead at 61-58 with 11:39 to play in the 2nd half. Burks finished with a game-high 29 points.
“He carried us a lot, C.J has been phenonemal,” Marshall Head Coach Dan D’Antoni said of Burks. “He’s deadly going to the basket and he’s deadly from 3-point range. I felt like he was the best player on the floor tonight. He may not be the best player in general, but tonight he was the best player on that court.”
The Hilltoppers managed to tie the game at 70 before freshman guard Hollingsworth fouled Elmore. Hollingsworth didn’t agree with the call, and was issued a technical foul. Elmore hit four straight free throws to give Marshall a 74-70 lead with 4:39 to play. Bearden scored on an and-1 play to cut the deficit to 1 and spark the Hilltoppers 15-0 finishing run. Bearden finished the game with 12 points despite not starting and missing the whole week of practice due to strep throat.
“If the game was on friday, I wouldn’t have played,” Bearden said. “Tonight though, I was ready to go. I didn’t feel the best, but I was willing to do whatever it took to help us get the win. I’m proud we were able to get the win.”
After another stop, Hollingsworth hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to give WKU the lead back with 2:34 to play. Shortly after, Marshall’s Ajdin Penava picked up his fifth foul of the game to send him to the bench. After another Bearden bucket pushed the lead to four points, Marshall’s Darius George also picked up his fifth foul with 1:50 to play, leaving the Thundering Herd with a lack of size underneath for the final minutes.
Hollingsworth’s final bucket pushed the lead to six. Thompson eventually found senior forward Justin Johnson for a slam dunk for the exclamation point as the Hilltoppers pulled away for an 85-74 victory. WKU held the Thundering Herd scoreless over the final 4:39.
“I would say defense,” Bearden said when asked about what sparked the 15-0 run. “We got a stop and an and-one then a stop and a 3-pointer. Stops. Stops. That’s what we were thinking. Defense wins games.”
The win improves WKU to 15-6 (7-1 C-USA). WKU joins Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee as the only teams in C-USA with 1 loss. The Hilltoppers are back in action on Thursday when they travel to Texas El-Paso (7-14, 2-7 C-USA). The Miners lost to MTSU 81-50 on Saturday.
Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.