Second half surge helps WKU pull away from Wright State

Senior forward Justin Johnson scores over two defenders in WKU’s game against Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday, Nov. 29. 

Jeremy Chisenhall

WKU used a strong second half to defeat Wright State for its fourth straight win, and to improve to 6-2.

The Hilltoppers found themselves trailing 23-22 in the first half to a team they were projected to beat by about 10 points. A late first-half push and a 21-5 run in the second half helped carry WKU to a 78-60 victory.

“In the second half we came out and played with a little more energy,” Stansbury said. “I thought we had some guys step up…I just didn’t think we were as sharp as I’ve seen our team.”

WKU got a big performance from senior guard Darius Thompson, who stuffed the stat-sheet with a team-high 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

“I thought Darius was just kind of casual all day, but you look at his stats, 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists and no turnovers, I guess that’s pretty good stats,” Stansbury said.

Junior guard Lamonte Bearden also came up big with 15 points and four assists. He went 7-7 from the free throw line.

The Hilltoppers finished with five guys in double-figures: Bearden, Thompson, freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth, senior forward Dwight Coleby and senior forward Justin Johnson. It’s nothing new for WKU, as the team has six players averaging double-digits in scoring.

“It’s hard to key on any one guy,” Stansbury said of game-planning against their scoring attack. “It’s hard to gameplan against us and say ‘we’ve got to take Justin out of it.’ Last year they could have done that; take Justin out of the play. Now you can’t do that because there’s too many other people around you that has opportunities to beat you, and beat you different ways.”

WSU held the game close for much of the first half, and even led 23-22 for 21 seconds before Johnson got to the other end and drained a 3-pointer to give the Hilltoppers the lead back. WKU closed the half on a 7-0 run, and held the Raiders scoreless for the last 2:04. Johnson finished an and-one opportunity with 30 seconds left to give the Hilltoppers a 41-30 lead at halftime.

WKU struggled with winning the turnover battle in the first half, a rarity for the team so far this year. The Hilltoppers committed seven turnovers and only forced six, and they were outscored in points off turnovers 6-4. Despite a bumpy start, WKU shot well in the first half, making 52 percent from the field and going 5-10 from deep.

Johnson led the way with 13 points and four rebounds. Thompson did a little bit of everything, scoring eight points with two 3-pointers, and also dishing five assists and grabbing three rebounds. Coleby contributed in his usual way, on the boards and in the scoring column with six points and six rebounds at the halfway mark.

“We played alright,” Hollingsworth said of the first half. “We can’t start out sluggish like we did. “We’ve got to keep that in our mind, we can’t do that during big games, and just games. We just can’t come out like that.”

WKU pulled away in the second half. Aided by a 21-5 run, the Hilltoppers’ lead got as big as 23 points. WKU had the same shooting percentage (52 percent) in both the first and second halves, but the Hilltoppers made eight straight field goals at one point in the second half.

Hollingsworth had all 13 of his points in the second half, going a perfect 5-5 from the field and making two 3-pointers.

“The second half, coaches and players were telling me I’ve got to attack, be more aggressive than what I was in the first half,” Hollingsworth said. “I listened to them, and it turned out great.”

Thompson scored in double-figures in the second half as well, dropping 10 of his 18 points. He also had five rebounds in the second half.

WKU will travel to Ohio to play the Bobcats on Dec. 10 following finals week. It gives them a week between games, something Coleby doesn’t like.

“Having the whole week off, you lose focus,” the senior big man said. “We should be fine. Just stay locked in in practice and just keep going hard, we’ll be alright.”


Reporter Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 859-760-0198 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.