WKU Men’s Basketball: Hilltoppers three-point shooting leads to 76-71 win over Southern Mississippi

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball made 11 3-pointers on Sunday, including 8 of 12 in the second half, to secure a 76-71 home victory over Southern Miss at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Hilltoppers (18-12 overall, 11-6 Conference USA) made their most 3-pointers since knocking down 12 at Charlotte on Jan. 3. They shot 48.1 percent from the field overall and 52 percent after the break.

WKU clinched a first-round bye in the Conference USA Tournament with the win.

“There’s not many nights we’ve walked in here and made 11 3s, is there?” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “It’s been 16 games since we walked in here and shot the ball the way we shot the ball. If you’re going to ask me one thing that was different: we shot the basketball.”

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth had a game-high 21 points with five rebounds and three made 3s. He scored 13 points in the second half, giving him 43 total points in the second half of the last three games.

Sophomore guard Josh Anderson scored 17 points, while redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden chipped in 13 points – including a career-high four 3s – and four assists.

Redshirt junior guard Jared Savage scored nine points on three second-half 3s – one of them the biggest shot of the game.

With the Hilltoppers up 72-71 in the final seconds, Savage knocked down a corner 3 as the shot clock trickled down to give WKU some separation.

Anderson came up with a steal on the next possession, and sophomore forward Marek Nelson added one free throw to seal the deal.

“We’re going to take all the wins we can get,” Hollingsworth said. “For us to be winning down the stretch, all the way to the end of the season is going to be really important. I feel like how everybody’s playing right now is just going to get better when the tournament starts.”

Southern Miss (17-11, 9-7) led 39-37 at the break and proved difficult to guard all day long. The Golden Eagles shot 51.9 percent from the floor and hit nine 3s.

USM still led 47-45 with 15:20 remaining when WKU went on a pivotal 13-3 run.

Savage and Hollingsworth hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and Hollingsworth later hit two straight mid-range jumpers to push their lead to 58-50 at the 12:25 mark.

“Taveion’s been killing it lately and that’s what we need from him down the stretch,” Savage said. “So to go do what we’re trying to do, we need Taveion to be playing like this and he’s coming on at the right time.”

Southern Miss came back to tie the game with a 9-0 run, but WKU had more big shots left in the tank.

Hollingsworth hit a 3 as the shot clock expired to give the Tops a 71-65 advantage with 2:58 to go, and Bearden found Savage for the final long-range make with 14 seconds remaining.

Freshman center Charles Bassey added nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks to WKU’s cause.

Tyree Griffin paced Southern Miss with 21 points, nine assists and three steals.

The Hilltoppers host their regular-season finale against UTSA at 6:30 p.m. CT Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will be Senior Night to recognize Bearden, and it will air on beIN SPORTS.

“Put out an assist to that crowd,” Stansbury said. “We had an unbelievable crowd today in what I thought, to be honest with you, Sunday, 2 o’clock game, spring break, pod system, bad weather – didn’t know what to expect. For us to come out and have the crowd we had, hey, give that crowd an assist. We probably couldn’t have won without them. We need them back in here Wednesday, Senior Night, we have one senior, we need this thing like it was today or more.”