WKU defeats Southern Miss to improve to 2-0 in conference play

WKU guard Darius Thompson (15) attacks the basket for a layup during WKU’s game vs. Nicholls State on Nov 19 in E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU won 100-86.

Sam Porter

The WKU men’s basketball team defeated Southern Miss 82-66 on Saturday in their final game of 2017. Graduate transfer forward Dwight Coleby scored 20 points, including 10-10 from the free throw line, and grabbed seven rebounds.

The Hilltoppers (10-5, 2-0 Conference USA) never trailed as all five starters scored in double figures. The win improves WKU to a 2-0 start in C-USA for the second consecutive season. It’s also the fifth time in six years WKU has started 2-0 in conference play.

“Any time you start off conference play 2-0 its a good feeling,” senior forward Justin Johnson said. “Todd Stewart came to the locker room after the game and told us it’s the first time we’ve had 10 wins in December since 2012. We’re happy with that.”

After both teams got off to a slow start offensively in the first two minutes, the Hilltoppers began to find their groove. Two 3-pointers by graduate transfer guard Darius Thompson and freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth highlighted a 13-2 run to give WKU a 15-4 lead with 15:22 left in the first half. It was the third consecutive game the Hilltoppers garnered a 10 point lead within the first six minutes. The Golden Eagles hung around throughout the early parts of the second half and only trailed 33-25 at the half.

“I thought we played in spurts today,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury said. “We came out and got a big lead early. After that I thought we kind of relaxed. I thought it was going to be easy, from that point on it was an even game for awhile.”

Early in the second half, Thompson took over momentarily. The former Virginia guard scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, in a five minute span to help push WKU’s lead to 56-38 with 13:18 left to play. Thompson finished the game with 15 points including 4-9 from 3-point land. The Hilltoppers shot 60 percent from deep in the second half.

“I think we definitely have to build up our confidence in shooting,” Thompson said. “With our bigs, defenders have to help so much. When Justin is in the post, the kick out is always there and we have to be ready to knock it down. We were all ready to shoot today.”

The Golden Eagles had one last push, as USM guard Tyree Griffin scored seven of his 14 points in a span of four minutes during a 17-9 run to bring the Golden Eagles within 9 points with 4:54 to play. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Johnson and junior guard Lamonte Bearden helped push the lead back to 12 points. Bearden found Coleby for an alley-oop dunk with 1:12 left to put the dagger down as WKU pulled away for a 16-point victory.

The Hilltoppers are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Huntington, West Virginia to take on Marshall (10-4, 1-0 C-USA). The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. in the Cam Henderson Center.

“We’re about to go to a difficult place in Marshall,” Stansbury said. “It should be a high-octane game. They run and shoot threes as well as anyone in this league. We’ve played a good non-conference schedule and we’re about to go on the road and play a good team. Some teams at this point in their season haven’t played a tough road game. You can’t say that about us.”

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