Hilltoppers Explode For 61 in Second Half, Knock Off North Texas 93-84
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WKU) — WKU Hilltopper Basketball fell behind by 15 in the second half Thursday night, but caught fire from deep and scored 61 after the break to power past North Texas 93-84 in the Conference USA opener at E.A. Diddle Arena.
WKU (8-5, 1-0 C-USA) trailed 49-34 with 18:18 left, but rattled off 16 straight points – the start of a 35-8 run that saw the Hilltoppers go from 15 down to up 69-57 in a span of just eight minutes.
WKU shot 54.9 percent from the field, including 69.2 percent in the second half, and made 9 of 13 3-pointers after the break. At one point in the second half, the Hilltoppers made nine straight shots.
“Our guys found a way,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We got down and never really got enough stops in that first half to take advantage of making some adjustments defensively. But I thought in the second half, I thought once we really started getting stops – when you make shots, the world goes round. … I think they were giving up 61 points for the game this season, and we score 61 in the second half.”
The offensive outburst, coupled with WKU’s defensive pressure in a new 1-2-2 press, led to some eye-popping statistics.
Five Hilltoppers reached double figures, led by junior guard Josh Anderson’s 19 points, five rebounds and three assists. Graduate senior guard Camron Justice and freshman guard Jordan Rawls each scored 18 points and made three 3-pointers, while Justice added seven rebounds.
Redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage scored 15 points and also made three 3s, and redshirt junior forward Carson Williams tallied 14 points and four assists.
“I think it increases our confidence overall,” Justice said. “I think we were just kind of dry, and it was good to get us going, motivate us a little bit. We just had to rally around each other.”
North Texas (6-8, 0-1) used a 16-2 run in the first half to build a double-digit lead, and the Mean Green took a 42-32 advantage into halftime.
WKU scored the first basket of the second half, but North Texas scored the next seven to open its largest lead at 49-34 with 18:18 left.
The Tops punched back with a 16-0 burst in just three minutes, capped by a Rawls 3-pointer that made it 50-49 WKU with 15:12 remaining.
The 3-point shooting barrage continued from there, and Anderson brought the house down with a transition dunk at the 8:39 mark that made it 73-61. The Hilltoppers led by as much as 14 with 5:57 remaining.
“We worked on it a lot in practice,” Rawls said of the improved ball movement. “We told each other that we probably weren’t going to win games playing the way we did against Belmont (a 79-62 loss Saturday), so we took it upon ourselves to make sure we moved the ball today.”
WKU finished the game with 17 assists and just five turnovers, including 10 assists and zero turnovers in the second half.
The Hilltoppers outscored North Texas 21-4 on fast breaks and 21-10 in points off turnovers.
WKU is now 23-5 all-time against the Mean Green and has won 11 straight in the series. It also improved to 11-2 in its last 13 conference openers.
Javion Hamlet paced North Texas with 19 points and eight assists.
The Hilltoppers stay at home to host Rice at 4 p.m. CT Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will stream online on ESPN3, as well as air locally in Bowling Green on WKU PBS.