Taveion Hollingsworth wanted high energy in a high-stakes game.

Western Kentucky certainly delivered.

An extra body and extra energy in WKU’s return to E.A. Diddle Arena were the driving forces behind the Hilltoppers’ 65-54 win over Louisiana Tech on Thursday night.

A day after Hollingsworth charged fans to “turn up” and wear black for the promoted blackout night, the Hilltoppers (15-8 overall, 8-3 Conference USA) did just that in their alternate black uniforms. WKU raced out to a 20-point lead by halftime and held on to a double-digit lead the rest of the way, upending the Bulldogs (17-6, 8-3), who were tied for first place in C-USA entering the game.

“We knew they were at the top of the conference, so we knew we had to get this win and put ourselves in a position to be first,” freshman Jordan Rawls said. “We knew what we had to do.”

North Texas defeated Middle Tennessee on Thursday to hold sole possession of first in the league at 9-2, but the Hilltoppers boast wins over the Mean Green and Louisiana Tech to claim the tiebreaker should it come to that in the coming weeks.

WKU shot 64 percent in the first half and rode the hot hand from the free-throw line the entire night. Hollingsworth had just one field goal, but was a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe as the Hilltoppers went 19-of-23 from the stripe. Louisiana Tech attempted just four free throws.

Rawls poured in a career-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and Camron Justice returned for the most notable contribution from a two-game spell dealing with a back injury. The senior guard turned in 21 minutes off the bench for 11 points and also made all five free-throw attempts.

“Really just started with the energy from us and then the crowd,” Justice said. “We kind of got going and got in a rhythm. Ball was moving well and wasn’t sticking and then some dudes knocked down some shots for us.”

Louisiana Tech’s 54 points marked just the second time the Bulldogs were held in the 50s all season, the first coming in a 51-50 loss to North Texas in their last defeat. They rode a four-game winning streak entering Thursday and boasted 75 points per game.

The Bulldogs also entered as the highest rated C-USA team by the NET ratings (79th) and KenPom (55th).

WKU’s press put the Bulldogs out of sorts early with 15 points off of nine Louisiana Tech turnovers in the first half.

Rick Stansbury saw the edge and energy out of his team he wanted after two recent losses at Florida Atlantic and FIU.

“I thought our guys physically and mentally, after recovering from that long road trip we had this past weekend, I thought we had that edge with us, particularly in the first half,” Stansbury said. “I thought our press was good for us. We were able to score enough to get set in it and I think that helped us and kept them from really getting in a rhythm.”

The Hilltoppers scored on their first three possessions to lead 6-0 and Williams had eight points by the 12:00 mark. Justice came off the bench and immediately provided what WKU had been missing the past two games. He hit two 3-pointers and made all three foul shots on another 3-point attempt in the first half. His second triple pushed WKU’s lead to 34-20 at the 4:27 mark.

WKU made a living at the stripe by reaching the bonus 13 minutes into the game. The Hilltoppers made 12-of-13 shots from the free-throw line and they didn’t have a foul called on them until the 6:45 mark.

Jordan Rawls scored on a wide-open layup in the final seconds of the first half as WKU shot 64 percent from the field to take a 44-24 lead into the locker room.

WKU pushed that lead to 22 points before the Bulldogs sparked an 8-0 run in just over a minute’s time. Savage snapped that run on an alley-oop dunk from Hollingsworth.

It took nine minutes for the Bulldogs to split the halftime lead, with Kalob Ledoux’s layup making it 53-43. The Toppers struggled shooting from the field with a 6-of-23 mark in the second half, but kept their consistency at the free-throw line to keep the gap at double digits the rest of the way.

All eight players who scored for Louisiana Tech were held to single digits. Daquan Bracey led the Bulldogs with nine points while Derric Jean and Amorie Archibald each had eight points.

“About as good as it can be,” Stansbury said of the Toppers’ defense. “I ground that game in the second half. It ain’t about trying to win by 40, it’s about getting to that horn and when the horn goes off, you’re ahead. … We slowed that game down and ground it down, worked that clock and the game went quick the second half.”

Carson Williams added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Hilltoppers. Jared Savage stuffed the box score with six points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocked shots.

“It was really satisfying,” Rawls said. “Really just wanted to bounce back and a lot of it had to do with the fans in Diddle. They gave us energy today at home.”

UP NEXT

WKU hosts Southern Miss on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The Golden Eagles (7-17, 3-8) lost 72-58 at Marshall.

NOTES

Rick Stansbury is now 77-50 his fourth season as WKU’s head coach. … The Hilltoppers are now 18-16 all-time against Louisiana Tech and 10-5 at home. Stansbury is 5-2 in his career against the Bulldogs. … WKU wore black uniforms for the first time in E.A. Diddle Arena since 2014-15. … The Hilltoppers have hit a 3-pointer in 1,033 consecutive games dating back to March 15, 1987. … Jordan Rawls scored a career-high 19 points. … WKU’s win was the second time in conference play it has held a team to fewer than 60 points, the first being 53 at Middle Tennessee. … Announced attendance in E.A. Diddle Arena was 5,769.{&end}

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

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