The WKU men’s basketball team (17-8, 10-3 C-USA) hit the road in search of a Conference USA win on Thursday night, and the Hilltoppers managed to hand Texas-El Paso (13-13, 4-9 C-USA) its fourth straight loss in a 67-62 triumph in the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.
WKU picked up just its fourth road victory of the season, and its first road win since a 64-60 comeback win against Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia, on Jan. 22.
The Hilltoppers had already secured a spot in the top pod of C-USA’s upcoming Bonus Play before playing the Miners, but WKU maintained its focus and claimed its third straight win.
WKU now has a 6-1 lead in the all-time series against UTEP, and head coach Rick Stansbury is 4-0 in his coaching career against the Miners. Stansbury said his team left a lot on the court during a gritty road win in the Don Haskins Center.
“I’m awful proud of the way our guys came out and handled this one,” Stansbury said postgame. “You know, UTEP’s back is to the wall. [UTEP head coach Rodney Terry] has been on them this week. They were trying to rally the troops one more trip down the stretch. He’s been on them to guard and change their lineup. Give our guys credit, we took some blows.”
The Hilltoppers shot 42% from the floor against the Miners, including nine 3-pointers. WKU outrebounded UTEP 37-34 and also had nine steals in a consistent defensive effort.
Four starters reached double figures against UTEP, but junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth led the way with 18 points, six rebounds and an assist in 35 minutes played.
The Lexington native reached the free-throw line seven times in the second half, making five of his shots from the charity stripe down the stretch.
“I should have made all of them,” Hollingsworth said about his free throws postgame. “When I was shooting free throws, all I could see was myself on the screen up there. It was kind of hard to focus on that rim, but I’ve got to knock them down.”
Redshirt senior wing Jared Savage went 4 for 9 from behind the three-point line, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds. Redshirt junior forward Carson Williams tallied 13 points, while graduate guard Camron Justice added 11 points for WKU in his first start since Jan. 9.
The Miners shot 41% from the floor after a rough first half. UTEP erased a 13-point deficit in the second half, outscoring the Hilltoppers 36-24 overall inside the paint. UTEP also dished the ball out at a consistent rate, assisting on 15 baskets in its loss to WKU.
Redshirt sophomore Souley Boum led the way for the Miners with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes. Redshirt junior forward Bryson Williams finished with 13 points, eight boards and four assists, while graduate guard Daryl Edwards added 10 points.
Bryson Williams won the opening tipoff for the Miners, but UTEP missed its first three shots from the field. The Hilltoppers allowed three offensive rebounds before Edwards drained a 3-pointer at the 18:34 mark.
Carson Williams evened the score for the Hilltoppers when freshman guard Jordan Rawls found the Owenton native for a wide-open 3-pointer. Hollingsworth doubled the Hilltopper lead on the next WKU possession, knocking down a 3-pointer to give the Hilltoppers a 6-3 advantage.
By the first media timeout at the 15:55 mark, the Hilltoppers held a 6-5 lead. WKU had already attempted four shots from distance, only making 2-of-4 attempts from behind the line.
Rawls found Carson Williams again at the top of the three-point line, and the forward swished in his second consecutive shot from distance at the 14:39 mark.
After Carson Williams made a 3-pointer, the Hilltoppers scored on their next three possessions and held a 15-9 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the opening half.
Carson Williams remained WKU’s leading scorer through the first eight minutes of action, as he converted an old-fashioned three-point play to boost the Hilltoppers to an early 18-9 lead.
The Hilltoppers continued to shoot the ball well from deep, as Savage became the third WKU player to net a shot from distance. He pushed the Hilltopper lead to 21-9 at the 10:27 mark.
Savage added another 3-pointer at the 9:10 mark, giving him six points in the first half and giving WKU a 24-11 advantage.
Anderson picked up his third foul of the first half at the 6:49 mark, and Stansbury was forced to sit the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native for the remainder of the half. Anderson only played five minutes in the opening half of action.
By the final media timeout at the 3:44 mark, the Hilltoppers had mounted a 28-17 lead. Right after the timeout, WKU continued to pour into its lead, as Justice scored a reverse layup to expand the Hilltopper lead to 30-17 with 3:25 remaining in the half.
After trailing by 13 points, UTEP produced a 12-0 run and cut the Hilltopper lead to just 30-29 with 29.5 seconds left in the opening 20 minutes of action.
Hollingsworth snapped the 12-0 Miner run by getting fouled in the final seconds of the half. He converted both of his shots at the charity stripe, giving the Hilltoppers a 32-29 lead at the halftime break.
WKU started the first half hot from distance, making 5 of 11 shots. Carson Williams and Savage both drained a pair of 3-pointers, while Hollingsworth chipped in a shot from behind the line in the opening half of play.
Six different Hilltopper players scored in the opening half, but Carson Williams led the way with nine points and two steals in 17 minutes of action. Hollingsworth followed up with seven points across 19 minutes of playing time.
The Hilltoppers ran into foul trouble in the first half, as Anderson picked up three fouls and Savage had to play on two fouls for part of the half.
WKU held its largest lead at 13 points, but the Miners forced the Hilltoppers into seven turnovers in the first half.
The Hilltoppers also defended the 3-point shot at a successful rate in the first half, only allowing UTEP to convert 3-of-14 shots from distance.
The Miners had seven different players pencil their names into the scoring column in the first half, but Bryson Williams led UTEP with seven points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
UTEP regained its lead when Edwards scored a layup at the 18:55 mark, taking a 33-32 advantage over the Hilltoppers early on.
The Miners added to their lead at the 18:26 mark when Savage fouled Boum. He netted both of his free throws and helped UTEP take a 35-32 lead.
The Hilltoppers regained their lead at the 17:09 mark, as Justice converted 2-of-3 free throws and then scored a layup to give WKU a 36-35 lead.
After holding a three-point lead early in the second half, the Miners missed seven straight shots and allowed the Hilltoppers to take a 41-35 at the 14:26 mark.
Cozart scored his first points of the evening at the 11:34 mark in the second half, helping the Hilltoppers hold a 45-39 advantage.
The Miners cut the WKU lead to 45-41 at the 9:52 mark, but Carson Williams netted a pair of free throws at the 9:02 mark to push the WKU lead back to six points.
UTEP trimmed the WKU lead to 47-43 lead at 8:14 mark, but Savage drained his third triple of the game and pushed the Hilltoppers to a 50-43 advantage.
The Miners answered by scoring six straight points in just 1:13 of clock time, cutting the Hilltopper lead to 50-49 at the 6:17 mark.
Carson Williams reached the free-throw stripe once again at the 6:04 mark, and the redshirt junior forward pushed the Hilltopper lead back to three points.
Savage gave the Hilltoppers a much-needed basket at the 4:47 mark, as he nailed yet another triple and increased the WKU lead to 55-51.
WKU and UTEP kept trading baskets going into the final media timeout at the 3:34 mark, but the Hilltoppers managed to hold onto its 55-53 lead.
Edwards had a chance to put the Miners ahead of the Hilltoppers at the 3:06 mark, but his 3-pointer was off the mark. Rawls responded by draining his first 3-pointer of the night and pushing the WKU lead to 60-56 with 2:41 left in the contest.
The Hilltoppers increased their lead after Hollingsworth converted a free throw from the charity stripe at the 2:13 mark. Bryson Williams narrowed the UTEP deficit to 61-58 at the 1:57 mark, as the forward scored an easy right-handed layup.
Hollingsworth found his way back to the free throw after the Lexington native completed a three-point play at the 1:12 mark, giving the Hilltoppers a 64-58 advantage.
Bryson Williams scored another right-handed layup with 58 seconds left, but Hollingsworth essentially put the game away with an off-balance fadeaway jumper.
WKU had a 66-60 advantage with just 31 seconds left, but the Hilltoppers allowed the Miners to score yet again another layup with 20 seconds left to play.
Hollingsworth approached the free-throw line for a one-and-one attempt, and the junior guard swished in his first free throw. He increased the WKU lead to 67-62 with 17.7 seconds remaining, helping his squad secure a five-point road win.
Following the win, the Hilltoppers will travel to San Antonio before continuing C-USA play against Texas-San Antonio (11-14, 5-7 C-USA) on Saturday.
The Roadrunners are led by junior guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace. Jackson and Wallace are a high-scoring duo, averaging 27 and 19 points per game, respectively.
Tipoff in the Convocation Center is slated for 2 p.m. on Feb. 15.
The game will be streamed live on CBS Sports Network on Facebook, which hosts games produced by CBS and broadcast exclusively on the social media platform.