The Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers won two tough road games last week to remain perfect in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers have had a big week with the NCAA giving eligibility to Josh Anderson and Moustapha Diagne, two talented players that can provide more depth for the team. They are also tied for first place in conference play with the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, their opponents for Saturday, Jan. 20 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Western Kentucky 75 | Old Dominion 68
Western Kentucky remains perfect in Conference USA as they won their fourth conference game in a row with a 75-68 victory over the Old Dominion Monarchs, their first win at Old Dominion since 1991.
The Hilltoppers, who are 12-5 overall for the season and 4-0 in Conference USA, snapped a six-game losing streak to the Monarchs, who are 12-4 overall for the season and 3-1 in conference play.
Senior forward Justin Johnson recorded his 30th career double-double with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He made 10 of 18 from the floor including a career-high five of seven shots from the 3-point line, and also had three blocks with two assists. Senior guard Darius Thompson scored 24 points, and redshirt junior guard Lamonte Bearden added 15 points and four assists.
Western Kentucky jumped out to an early 16-6 lead behind three 3-pointers from Johnson. Old Dominion answered with 6 straight points and a 12-0 run to pull in front 30-23 with 1:49 left in the first half. However, the Hilltoppers scored 7 of the half's final 9 points, including a running 3-pointer off the glass by Thompson at the buzzer to trim their deficit down to 32-30 at halftime.
Western Kentucky shot 62.5 percent in the second half as they quickly pulled back in front with an 8-2 run to start the third quarter, then used a 10-2 run to make it 50-41 with 12:23 left in the game on a 3-pointer by Bearden. Old Dominion pulled within two possessions several times but the Hilltoppers kept the Monarchs from taking the lead. No defensive stand was bigger than Johnson's block and rebound with 1:22 left in the game that preserved a 68-62 lead and allowed the Hilltoppers to win the game at the free-throw line for the 75-68 victory.
Western Kentucky shot 54 percent from the field for the game, making 10 of their 16 shots from the 3-point line and 11 of their 15 attempts from the free throw line. Old Dominion made 26 of their 67 shots from the floor, shooting 38.8 percent and making four of their 14 shots from the 3-point line. They also made 12 of their 16 shots from the free throw line, shooting 75 percent.
Redshirt junior B.J. Stith scored a team high of 17 points to lead Old Dominion, with 14 points each from redshirt sophomore Ahmad Caver and redshirt junior Trey Porter and redshirt senior Brandan Stith having 12 points as the Monarchs' seven-game win streak came to an end.
Western Kentucky 73 | Charlotte 63
The Hilltoppers overcame a tough offensive first half Saturday night at Charlotte, but a strong second half of shooting paved their way to a 73-63 Conference USA road victory. They won their fourth straight road game for the first time since the 2013-2014 season and earned their first win at Charlotte in their last three games.
Western Kentucky improved to 13-5 overall for the season and 5-0 in conference play for the fourth time since 1970 and the first time since the 2014-2015. Charlotte fell to 1-4 in conference play and 5-14 overall for the season.
"A 'W' is a 'W.' Winning on the road is not easy. You can't take it for granted nowhere. Those guys went to North Texas to win," Hilltoppers Head Coach Rick Stansbury said. "We didn't play our best, but we still found ways to make plays when we had to, and that's going to happen some nights."
Bearden led the Hilltoppers with 19 points while Thompson added 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Senior forward Dwight Coleby had his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks and freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored 10 points.
Western Kentucky fell behind 4-0 and did not score until the 16:32 mark of the first half when Bearden started a 13-2 Hilltopper run with a traditional 3-point play. Bearden scored their first 7 points of the game and helped the Hilltoppers push to a 13-6 lead with 12:18 left in the first half. Both teams shot less than 30 percent in the first half but Western Kentucky had an eight point lead, 28-20 at halftime. The Hilltoppers scored 20 of the 28 points in the paint without a making a 3-pointer.
Thompson pushed the lead back to double digits with a layup and a 3-pointer to start the second half, but the 49ers cut their deficit to within 4 points with 8:46 to play. However, the Hilltoppers put the game out of reach with a 14-4 run. Coleby capped the spurt with a put back dunk off a miss that made the score 63-49 with 3:12 left in the game for the 73-63 victory.
"Our offense did come out a little slow, but the defense made up for it," Bearden said. "In the second half, we were more aggressive. We threw a few assists to each other and got out in transition."
Western Kentucky out rebounded Charlotte 46-38 and recorded nine steals as they made 25 of their 64 shots from the floor, shooting 39.1 percent from the floor and making three of their 14 shots from the 3-point line. They also made 20 of their 29 attempts from the free throw line, shooting 69 percent.
Junior Jon Davis led the 49ers with a game high of 26 points along with junior Andrien White adding 18 points as they made 20 of their 58 shots from the floor, shooting 34.5 percent and making two of their 15 shots from the 3-point line. They shot 95.5 percent from the free throw line, making 21 of their 22 shots.
"We had to grind that one out. We didn't have one of our best nights, but we had to grind it out," Hollingsworth said. "When you go on the road, it's always going to be a challenge, no matter what. We stay with it, no matter how we're playing. If everybody's off, we just keep playing hard on defense. That's all Coach (Stansbury) talks about, is our defense."
The Hilltoppers return home to host the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers in a Conference USA game with tip-off time scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18 at E.A. Diddle Arena. 1220 WFKN Franklin radio will broadcast the game immediately following the broadcast of the Franklin-Simpson Lady Cats hosting the Hart County Lady Raiders at the F-S Gym with tip-off time scheduled for approximately 6:30 p.m.