WKU (9-3), (2-1, C-USA) escaped its home floor with a 66-64 win over Louisiana Tech (8-4), (1-2, C-USA) in game one of its opening home series in conference play.
For the first time this season, freshman guard Dayvion McKnight entered the starting lineup, replacing Kenny Cooper. Cooper ultimately didn’t play at all due to a coach’s decision.
Despite starting out 5-of-17 from the field to start the game, WKU found itself up early with a 9-0 run over a four minute span. Both teams were cold shooting the ball in the first half with a combined 25 points in the first 11 minutes of play with both teams shooting under 30%.
Bassey’s presence was felt at the rim by the second media timeout totaling 10 rebounds. The junior also had nine points going 3-of-5 from the field and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.
As the big man checked out of the game, the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run to bring the deficit down to two, scoring on three straight possessions to the Hilltoppers missing their last five shots with a couple of turnovers in between.
WKU was able to keep its lead throughout the first half due to two reasons; turnovers and free throws. LA Tech committed nine turnovers compared to WKU’s four while the Hilltoppers shot 8-of-9 from the free throw line to the Bulldogs’ 1-of-5. WKU took a 31-28 lead into halftime.
Heading into the locker room Bassey had his seventh double-double of the season.
“Charles was a man in there tonight,” Stansbury said. “Charles erased a lot of baskets and offensively and defensively he’s a guy that helps save us too.”
One minute into the second half Taveion Hollingsworth passed WKU legend Courtney Lee, for most minutes played in program history. He received a standing ovation upon the announcement over the loudspeakers.
"I'm proud of them to be honest," Bassey said of his teammates milestones. "Josh has done a lot for the team since being a freshman and Taveion getting those minutes is tough and I am proud of them."
Bassey continued his dominance right out of the gate in the second half, with three blocks on three straight possessions with two of them leading to finishes at the rim by senior Josh Anderson.
Even though WKU was on top in most stat categories, LA Tech stuck around and even took a 42-41 lead for the first time since the 15:51 mark of the first half when they had a 7-4 lead.
LA Tech outscored WKU 17-10 in the first eight minutes of the half. It didn't help that WKU caught the turnover bug, allowing the Bulldogs to score in transition with easy baskets.
For the last six minutes of the game, the teams traded the lead back and forth like a tennis match.
With 4:48 left in the game, Josh Anderson scored his 1,000 career point at the free throw line.
Congratulations to @LilTay11_ on becoming @WKUBasketball’s all-time leader in career minutes played and to @ja__iv on joining the program’s career 1,000 point club! Great accomplishments for 2 impactful Hilltoppers! #GoTops— Todd Stewart (@ToddStewartWKU) January 9, 2021
With 1:11 left, LA Tech took a 64-63 lead forcing Stansbury to call a timeout. At this point, WKU hadn’t made a field goal in the last 7:19 of game time. Following the timeout, Hollingsworth drove to the basket and gave WKU the one-point lead with a contested floater.
On LA Tech’s ensuing possession, Bassey came up with his fourth block, with 22 seconds remaining in the game to maintain the lead.
Hollingsworth was then fouled and tacked on 1-of-2 free throws to make it 66-64. The Bulldogs missed again on its possession, sending Rawls to the free throw line as he missed both free throws.
LA Tech went for the win with an open three-pointer shot from Amorie Archibald but missed, giving the Hilltoppers the 66-64 win.
Bassey led the team with 24 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks for his seventh double-double of the season. Anderson had 12 points and seven rebounds, going 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Hollingsworth finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Carson Williams finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
"I felt comfortable from the start, I've been putting in the extra work," Williams said. "We outrebounded them by a big margin."
WKU shot 35% for the game and went 2-of-17 overall from three but went 24-of-31 from the free throw line and was plus 14 in rebounds.
“We have to limit the paint points,” Stansbury said. “I look at the paint points and they got 36 paint points and we got 34 — that's even with Charles there. So we have to do a better job there tomorrow night.”
Game two of the first home series on conference play continues tomorrow night at 6 p.m. inside Diddle Arena.
"We just need to play better defense," Bassey said. "We need to come out with even more energy tomorrow."