WKU defeats Charlotte 80-63

Western Kentucky guard Taveion Hollingsworth celebrates after a basket during WKU’s 80-63 win over Charlotte on Jan. 18 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Rick Stansbury had not been around a group of players in a long time that needed the rest and recovery like Western Kentucky needed after leaving every ounce of energy on the court during a two-loss conference swing in Florida.

But the Hilltoppers are home now with every bit of motivation – rested and recovered – hoping to make a statement Thursday night in one of the key matchups in Conference USA.

The Hilltoppers want E.A. Diddle Arena looking a little different for Thursday’s 8 p.m. game against Louisiana Tech, a night being promoted as a blackout.

“We’re not wearing no white, we’re not wearing red,” junior Taveion Hollingsworth said to conclude his Wednesday afternoon news conference in the arena. “I better not see (any) colors in the stands. I want to see all black, everything. Let’s turn up.”

Hollingsworth and the Hilltoppers (14-8, 7-3 C-USA) will wear black uniforms for the late start against a Bulldogs team tied for first in the C-USA standings. Louisiana Tech (17-5, 8-2) lost its second conference game on Jan. 18 to North Texas on a last-second shot. Since that point the Bulldogs are on a four-game winning streak as the league’s best defensive team while owning a lethal 3-point shooting game.

A win would move the Hilltoppers back into a tie for first in the conference while owning the tiebreaker over UNT and Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech is also the highest ranked team in the NET rankings in C-USA, No. 79, and the highest team No. 119 WKU has faced since defeating North Texas (94th) on Jan. 2. Plus, the Bulldogs are 4-1 away from Ruston, La., this year in conference games.

As if the stakes weren’t enough, WKU is promoting a Blackout night for the later-than-usual tipoff, broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network. WKU debuted the black uniforms at UAB on Jan. 9, but it’ll make its home introduction Thursday.

“Pretty excited to play in Diddle and the first game for the black uniforms at home,” junior Josh Anderson said. “Excited for the blackout. Excited for the fans. It’s a big game, too.”

Now more than ever has the Hilltoppers needed the energy that Diddle Arena usually provides. With senior Camron Justice now a game-time decision while he deals with nagging back injury, WKU’s bench options are thinner with redshirt freshman Jeremiah Gambrell and freshman Isaiah Cozart.

During two losses at Florida Atlantic and FIU, all scoring from the Hilltoppers had to come from the starting five. Still, WKU found itself within one possession of the lead or a tie in the final minute of each game.

WKU’s starting five of Hollingsworth, Anderson, Jordan Rawls, Jared Savage and Carson Williams all played at least 32 minutes at FIU with Savage playing the entire game. That same group played in the 30-minute range a few days earlier at Florida Atlantic.

“You know what we’re fighting,” Stansbury said. “Keep repeating a few words –that margin for error is zero. One thing I know we have to have, is those guys that are playing, keep them as fresh as we can mentally and physically for the games. Once the game starts, you can’t solve that cutback or not go as long. You’ve got to play 40 minutes. … Know we have our hands full with a team with a lot of depth.”

Louisiana Tech boasts quite the bench with only one player having logged just 35 minutes only five times all season. Junior Kalob Ledoux averages 11.8 points per game as the second leading scorer off the bench. He leads the reserves in averaging 26 points per game.

Longtime starting guard DaQuan Bracey leads the team with 12.9 points per game and hit the last-second 3-pointer for the Bulldogs to defeat Old Dominion last Saturday. Bracey is the leader of a team making at least 10 3-pointers per game. Just in conference games alone, Bracey, Derric Jean and Amorie Archibald are shooting 40 percent or better from long range and Ledoux is shooting 35 percent off the bench.

Meanwhile 6-7 senior forward Mubarak Muhammed has made 30-of-38 field goal attempts (79 percent) in his last eight games.

On top of that, the Bulldogs are allowing the fewest points per game in C-USA (62 ppg), currently holding six of 10 conference opponents to 60 points or less and at least 40 percent shooting.

“Probably the best team in the league coming in here,” Stansbury said. “(The crowd) can be a major factor giving us a boost and the energy we need, somewhere along this way that may be the difference in this game. It’s going to come down to one possession, they’re really good and we have to keep it close enough to make it a one-possession game. This crowd can make a difference. It’s made a difference already in here.”

Louisiana Tech (17-5, 8-2) at Western Kentucky (14-8, 7-3)

8 p.m. CST, Thursday, E.A. Diddle Arena

Western Kentucky – Taveion Hollingsworth, g, 6-2, jr. (15.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Jordan Rawls, g, 6-1, fr. (8.0 ppg, 2.2 apg); Jared Savage, g/f, 6-5, r-sr. (11.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Carson Williams, f, 6-5, r-jr. (13.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, jr. (10.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg)

LA Tech– DaQuan Bracey, g, 5-11, sr. (12.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Amorie Archibald, g, 6-3, jr. (11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg); JaColby Pemberton, g, 6-5, r-jr. (6.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Derric Jean, g, 6-2, r-sr. (9.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Mubarak Muhammed, f, 6-7, sr. (8.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg)

TV – CBS Sports Network

Radio: WKLX 100.7 FM

Coaches: Eric Konkol (100-54 fifth season, 100-54 overall) Louisiana Tech; Rick Stansbury (76-50, fourth year; 369-216 overall), Western Kentucky.

Series Record: Western Kentucky leads the all-time series 17-16. WKU lost the last meeting 62-50 in Ruston, La., on Jan. 26, 2019.

Last time out: Western Kentucky lost 81-76 at FIU on Saturday. Louisiana Tech won 76-73 against Old Dominion on Saturday.{&end}

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

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