WKU dropped its season opener to Missouri State, 85-80, as the Hilltoppers had to attempt a comeback from a 26-4 deficit early on and fell short.
Junior guard Lamonte Bearden starred for WKU in his first game as a Hilltopper, scoring 24 points and grabbing five rebounds. He shot 9-10 from the free throw line and 6-12 from the field including a perfect 3-3 from 3-point range. WKU also got significant contributions from senior forward Justin Johnson who scored 11 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for his first double-double of his senior season. Senior guard Darius Thompson also contributed 19 points.
“You can’t spot good basketball teams 22 points before you start figuring out what’s going on,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We had opportunities…We had two-to-three opportunities to tie it up, and maybe even take a lead, and really get that crowd into it.”
MSU is the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference. Senior forward Alize Johnson, who had 13 points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes of play, is a potential lottery pick. Multiple NBA scouts were in attendance.
Stansbury praised the crowd in Diddle Arena on Friday. The announced attendance was 5,241, the largest crowd in Diddle since Jan. 30, 2016 against Middle Tennessee.
Senior forward Dwight Coleby struggled in this one, picking up four fouls, and scoring eight points while only grabbing one rebound.
“Dwight got into foul trouble, and I think it’s well-documented, we don’t have a lot of ways we can maneuver when somebody gets into foul trouble, especially a big guy,” Stansbury said. “He gets one rebound tonight, and he’s been averaging, you know, basically a double-double for us.”
The first half was rough for the Hilltoppers, as MSU got out to a commanding 26-4 in the first eight minutes of the game. They held a double-digit lead for much of the first half, but WKU forced MSU into foul trouble, as six Bears had two or more fouls in the first half. The Hilltoppers capitalized from the free throw line, going 17-21 from the charity stripe in the first half. They also used the foul trouble to help them go on a quick 5-0 run to close out the half, and trailed 45-34 at halftime.
Junior guard Lamonte Bearden came off the bench for his first action as a Hilltopper, and scored a team-high 11 points in the first half. Senior forward Justin Johnson also stood out in the first half, scoring six point and grabbing seven rebounds. After being the star of all three of WKU’s exhibitions, freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth struggled in the first half, going scoreless and surrendering two turnovers.
WKU came out strong in the second half, cutting the lead down to just one point within the first five minutes. MSU held its lead in single digits for the majority of the second half, and every time WKU threatened, they’d punch back and distance themselves. That was the case all the way through, even when WKU would cut it to two points on multiple occasions. And despite two 3-pointers by WKU in the final seconds, MSU held on.
The Hilltoppers continued to force MSU into foul trouble, as four of their players picked up four fouls and one fouled out. WKU used that to score another 11 points at the free throw line, going 11-15 in the second half.
Bearden’s second half was even better than his first, as he scored 13 points and tacked on three more rebounds. The majority of Johnson’s double-double came in the second half, as he grabbed eight second half rebounds and also scored five points. Thompson also stood out in the second half with 13 points and a rebound.
Starting the season 0-1, WKU will continue action when they host Kentucky Wesleyan on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in Diddle Arena.