It may have not played in 19 days, but Western Kentucky didn’t show any signs of rust.
Back on the court for the first time in nearly three weeks after having two Conference USA series postponed due to COVID-19 related issues, the Hilltoppers played exceptionally well in a 77-71 win over Rice on Friday evening at E.A. Diddle Arena.
WKU – now 14-4 overall and 7-2 in C-USA with five straight wins – built an early 10-point lead and took a 50-38 advantage into the locker room at halftime. Rice significantly improved its play in the second half, but it was never able to take a lead as the Tops were in front from wire-to-wire.
WKU shot the ball extremely well – recording a 51% clip from the field and 41% from 3-point range – while tallying 20 assists on 29 made baskets. Charles Bassey led the way for the Hilltoppers with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Josh Anderson and Taveion Hollingsworth each scored 17 points.
Travis Evee scored 19 points to lead Rice (12-9, 6-7).
The Hilltoppers and Owls will meet for the second game of their weekend series at 5 p.m. Saturday at Diddle Arena. The contest will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.
WKU came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, scoring the first seven points of the game – highlighted by a 3-pointer from Anderson – and knocked down two more from Anderson and Hollingsworth shortly after to have a 13-3 lead at the 17:00 mark of the first half.
Rice pulled within five at 18-13 with Evee’s jumper and Quincy Olivari’s 3, but the Hilltoppers scored four straight fast-break points on Carson Williams and Dayvion McKnight layups to go up 24-16 at the 10:11 mark.
Back-to-back triples by Luke Frampton and Williams put WKU in front 32-23, and Bassey’s tip-in – followed by a dunk – had the Hilltoppers leading by double digits at 36-23 with 6:27 remaining in the half before they were up 50-38 at the break.
Rice opened the second half with three triples – two coming from Evee – to cut its deficit to 53-47 at the 16:42 mark. The Owls got within 55-51 with a jumper by Evee, but Anderson splashed a 3 to put WKU up 58-51 at the 14:07 mark.
Hollingsworth’s bucket made it 64-58 with 10:12 remaining, and Frampton netted a 3 to give the Hilltoppers a 67-58 lead just under two minutes later.
A basket by Bassey put WKU up 73-61 with 5:25 left, and Hollingsworth’s runner inside the paint made it a 14-point affair with 3:46 to go.
The Owls cut the Tops’ lead down to 75-69 with an 8-0 run, but Hollingsworth made a big layup to put WKU up eight with 58 seconds left and seal it.
– WKU was without four players, a coach and an additional staff member on Friday, as players Jordan Rawls, Kevin Osawe, Isaiah Cozart and Patrick Murphy, associate head coach Phil Cunningham and associate director of basketball operations Martin Cross were all unavailable.
– WKU started Dayvion McKnight, Taveion Hollingsworth, Josh Anderson, Carson Williams and Charles Bassey.
– Attendance was 1,118.
– Tyler Mansfield is the managing editor for InsideHilltopperSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @RivalsMansfield. –