All the pieces available made a pretty good picture.

Rick Stansbury could’ve pointed to four different players after Western Kentucky’s 86-71 win over UT Martin that made a difference in finding the right footing in the home opener at Diddle Arena.

The most obvious of those selections was Desean Murray, who in his first game since being reinstated from an indefinite suspension poured in 18 points in 22 minutes. Then there’s the reliable sophomore in Taveion Hollingsworth with 22 points, and Jared Savage making his hometown return in an official debut for 16 points.

Finally, there’s the freshman.

Center Charles Bassey helped WKU get separation in the second half and finished a rebound shy of his second double-double in as many collegiate games with 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.

Just two games into the year, Stansbury saw options Saturday night.

“We expect more now,” Hollingsworth said. “We can get comfortable with each other and start coming back as the puzzle.”

WKU (1-1) got its full roster of eligible players back Saturday for the first time after one regular season game and two exhibitions. Hollingsworth was suspended in the first exhibition, while Josh Anderson and Murray were suspended for the second.

Murray also didn’t make the trip for the team’s loss at No. 25 Washington on Tuesday. His presence against UT Martin was one Stansbury said the team clearly missed against the Huskies.

In 22 minutes off the bench, the Auburn transfer made 8-of-14 shots from the floor, grabbed seven rebounds, issued three assists and had three steals.

He and Bassey provided a commanding presence inside with WKU’s 50-32 advantage in points in the paint.

“It was amazing to be able to join my team and be a part of this building and just the action on the court,” Murray said. “I feel like I added to the team. I just did what I had to do to help my team win. They played well without me. I’m just glad to be back.”

Freshman Tolu Smith added six points and seven defensive rebounds in 12 minutes. Two of Smith’s scores came off assists from fellow freshman Dalano Banton.

The all-around effort led WKU to shoot 52.3 percent from the field, while outrebounding the Skyhawks (1-1) 45-32.

“It was good to have all your pieces,” Stansbury said. “This was the first game we had all our pieces tonight. That’s the next step with this team. We’ve got to get some rhythm and some chemistry of guys playing together and figuring out that rotation off that bench a bit. That’s the next step we’ve got to have.”

UT-Martin went 5-of-8 early on 3-pointers to hold a lead in the first 10 minutes.

Back-to-back Murray and Hollingsworth buckets tied it at 26-all, then Banton fed consecutive assists to Smith for an 8-0 run that pushed WKU into a 30-26 lead at the 8:50 mark.

Bassey scored on three-straight possessions – one of which was a one-handed dunk on an alley-oop from Jake Ohmer – to extend the lead by nine points at 37-28. Murray’s floater in traffic at the rim to beat the shot clock gave him nine points and WKU a 10-point lead with 3:41 left in the half.

The Hilltoppers held that double-digit lead at halftime while shooting 56 percent from the floor. Murray was effective from the start with nine points on 4-for-7 shooting and four rebounds in 12 minutes. Anderson, who went scoreless at Washington, earned the start again and scored five points in his six first-half minutes.

Bassey took just two shots in the first half, but came out firing after halftime and scored the first seven points for WKU. Hollingsworth turned a steal at midcourt into a fast-break layup for a 7-0 run to make it a 65-51 lead at the 11:43 mark, and the Hilltoppers kept pulling away from there.

WKU widened the gap by 15 points at the final margin in front of 5,815 in attendance, the largest crowd for a home opener since 2007.

Kevin Little and Delfincko Bogan each led the Skyhawks with 18 points. Little had four of UT-Martin’s eight 3-pointers.

“The biggest thing I’ll take from it is understanding more chemistry and rhythm part,” Stansbury said. “The pieces maybe start to fit a little better.”

UP NEXT

WKU will compete in the Myrtle Beach Invitational next week starting with Valparaiso on Thursday. WKU won’t play another home game until Dec. 1 against Tennessee State.

NOTES

Rick Stansbury is now 43-29 in his third season as WKU’s coach and 335-195 overall. … WKU leads the all-time series with UT-Martin 3-1. … Stansbury is 5-0 all time against UT-Martin. … The Hilltoppers have won 13 of their last 15 home openers and are 81-19 all time in the season’s first home game. … WKU is now 26-6 at E.A. Diddle Arena under Stansbury and 12-2 against nonconference opponents. … WKU has made a 3-pointer in 978 straight games. … Announced attendance at E.A. Diddle Arena was 5,815.{&end}

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Covering high school sports and Western Kentucky women's basketball for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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