WKU defeats Marshall 91-84

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers guard Josh Anderson (4) shoots during WKU's 91-84 win over Marshall on Saturday, January 25, 2020, at E. A. Diddle Arena. (Austin Anthony/photo@bgdailynews.com)

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Josh Anderson’s reputation with Western Kentucky involves explosiveness, lockdown defense and dunks to fill a highlight reel.

The only problem in the past has been producing that consistently. Not only has Anderson stepped up and been reliable each game for the Hilltoppers since conference play, he’s evolving his game beyond what puts him on the SportsCenter Top 10.

“Josh is playing well for us,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “In front of that press, made a lot of stuff happen. He’s getting more confident shooting that basketball and he put up a couple of jumpers.”

Anderson had his best scoring game of the year Thursday with 20 points in WKU’s 69-65 loss at Florida Atlantic. He scored on dunks, 3-pointers and even mid-range jumpers that are proof his game has evolved since being inserted into the starting lineup 12 games ago with Charles Bassey’s season-ending injury.

That production helped WKU (14-8 overall, 8-2 Conference USA) stand atop the C-USA standings before the Thursday night loss in Boca Raton, Fla. Now the Hilltoppers are in second place ahead of Saturday morning’s game at FIU in Coral Gables, Fla.

Anderson’s game Thursday made up for an off-night from forward Carson Williams, who was held to 2-of-8 shooting for six points and six rebounds. Anderson scored 15 points in the second half and finished 7-of-13 shooting from the field with a 6-of-7 mark from the free-throw line.

“I feel like my confidence is going up,” Anderson said. “I’ve been getting in the gym and putting up shots and that’s been big. Team as a whole, we’ve been playing great. Just as a whole, we’re playing good.”

The 6-foot-6 guard only reached double figures twice in the first nine games of the year. He’s scored at least 10 points in 10 of the last 12 games. He’s averaging 12.5 games in that dozen and averaging 9.8 for the season.

On the defensive front, he’s presented problems for opposing teams while anchored at the front of the 1-2-2 press that has become a common sight. His length and explosiveness has also produced key blocks, a statistic he and Jared Savage co-lead with 24 apiece.

“We needed that, especially tonight,” fellow junior Taveion Hollingsworth said. “He’s very aggressive when he wants to be. He has that mindset and he’s going to do it.”

WKU needs quality play like that again from Anderson and for Williams to get back to normal form against an FIU team that has been strong at home. The Panthers (14-8, 5-4) lost their first home game Thursday in an 84-74 setback to Marshall. Devon Andrews leads FIU in scoring and ranks fourth in the conference with 16.2 points per game.

FIU ranks second in the league in scoring offense, averaging 75 points per game, but ranks near the bottom defensively at 12th, allowing 76.9 points per game.

The Hilltoppers will need that production from Anderson and Williams due to potential concerns again with depth. Graduate senior Camron Justice missed the whole second half at Florida Atlantic with more back issues, an injury that sidelined him for two games a few weeks ago. WKU got no point production from its bench between Justice, Isaiah Cozart and Jeremiah Gambrell.

“Honestly, we can feel the effects, but you can’t let it affect you in the game,” Hollingsworth said. “If you’re just thinking about getting tired, you might as well not be in. Breaks are free throws, breaks are timeouts, breaks are the ref looking at whatever they’re looking at. That’s what you have to take.”

Western Kentucky (14-8, 8-2) at FIU (14-8, 5-4)

11 a.m. CST, Saturday, Ocean Bank Convocation

Western Kentucky – Taveion Hollingsworth, g, 6-2, jr. (15.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Jordan Rawls, g, 6-1, fr. (8.0 ppg, 2.0 apg); Jared Savage, g/f, 6-5, r-sr. (11.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Carson Williams, f, 6-5, r-jr. (13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, jr. (9.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

FIU– Devon Andrews, f, 6-6, r-sr. (16.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg); Isaiah Banks, g, 6-5, jr. (6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Trejon Jacob, g, 6-5, sr. (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Antonio Daye, Jr., g, 6-1, so. (9.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Osasumwen Osaghae, f, 6-9, sr. (13.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg)

TV – Stadium/Facebook

Radio: WKLX 100.7 FM

Coaches: Rick Stansbury (76-49, fourth year; 369-215 overall), Western Kentucky; Jeremy Ballard (34-22 second season; 34-22 overall) FIU.

Series Record: Western Kentucky leads the all-time series 34-8. WKU lost the last meeting 77-76 on Jan. 17, 2019, at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Last time out: Western Kentucky lost 69-65 at Florida Atlantic on Thursday. FIU lost 84-74 to Marshall on Thursday.{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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