Hilltoppers win Conference USA East Division, clinch postseason bye round

Charles Bassey (23) and WKU Senior guard, Taveion Hollingsworth (11) celebrate with a hug after the game against Old Dominion on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (18-6), (11-3, C-USA) defeated Old Dominion (15-7), (11-5) by a score of 60-57 to earn the number one seed in the Conference USA East Division and the best overall record in Conference USA this season. 

“Winning championships are never easy,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Anytime you can put yourself in a position to win a championship that’s very special, and these guys just found a way.” 

Rick Stansbury also won his 100th game as the head coach for the Hilltoppers. The last time the Hilltoppers won a conference title was 2009 when the program was still a member of the Sun Belt. 

“There wasn’t but one game that mattered and that was the one tonight,” Stansbury said. “I’ll remember that victory because it’s a conference championship too.”

Senior Taveion Holliongsworth led the way with 19 points and four rebounds on 5-for-9 shooting. Jordan Rawls followed with nine points and three assists. Luke Frampton had nine points and three rebounds. Senior Malik Curry led ODU with 23 points 

Before the game seniors Taveion Hollingsworth, Josh Anderson, Carson Williams, Kenny Cooper, and Patrick Murphy were recognized as it may be their last game inside of Diddle Arena for their college career. 

Free throws and three point shots proved to be pivotal once again. WKU shot 8-21 from behind the arc while shooting 22-28 from the free throw line. Old Dominion shot 6-21 from behind the arc while shooting 9-12 from the free throw line.

“It feels great to accomplish a goal that we sat out at the beginning of the year and that’s one of them as a team that we obviously came together and said we wanted to do,” Williams said. “So to be able to accomplish that means something.”

WKU had a rough start, shooting 2-for-6 with four of those shots being from behind the three point line as Old Dominion’s leading scorer Curry continued his hot streak scoring seven of their first nine points. 

WKU decided to provide some shooting of their own going on a 7-0 run with back-to-back three pointers from redshirt junior Luke frampton and sophomore Jordan Rawls to help give them their first lead of the game. 

“All of his points came off of three-point plays tonight,” Stansbury said. “When it’s a one possession game, just like last night, imagine what one three pointer does for you. He gave us basically three tonight.” 

WKU went on to not make a field goal for the last four minutes of the half but were able to keep the lead in part due to making 12-of-15 free throws. ODU shot 50% in the first half but committed 11 fouls and eight turnovers. WKU led 36-33 heading into the locker room. 

The Hilltoppers flipped the switch to start the second half, going on an early 5-0 run. But the Monarchs defense buckled down, causing WKU to go on a scoring drought of 7:30, and got to the free throw scoring five of their first 10 points from the stripe. 

Big man junior Charles Bassey committed one foul in the first half, but committed three in the second, causing him to go to the bench at 6:42. Frampton came off the bench and provided a spark with a steal followed by three free throws to give WKU a 54-53 lead. 

Bassey checked back in with 2:41 left in the game, immediately getting a huge block that kept the Monarchs from tying the game. ODU would eventually tie the game but after a jump ball WKU had possession with 34 seconds left. 

After the timeout, Hollingsworth converted an and-one bucket plus the free throw to put WKU up three. ODU had a chance to tie it with six seconds left but missed the three pointer giving the Hilltoppers the win. 

“I was just keeping my head [straight], staying calm. I’m supposed to be a leader,” Hollingsworth said. “Some of the younger players look up to me to do things like that and show them that I can do that. It means a lot.” 

WKU will face the winner of UTSA and Charlotte on March 11 at 5:30 p.m.

The updated postseason bracket can be found here

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3