WKU defeats Charlotte 80-63

Western Kentucky guard Taveion Hollingsworth (right) is fouled by Charlotte guard Jahmir Young during WKU’s 80-63 win Jan. 18 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Western Kentucky will take its five-game winning streak to Charlotte to open Conference USA play this weekend.

The Hilltoppers went 7-2 through the nonconference portion of the schedule, and will now travel to Charlotte for 3 p.m. CT games Friday and Saturday at Halton Arena.

“I think we’ve played really good competition to this point,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “I think our team’s been tested a lot of different styles, to Northern Iowa, to Memphis, to West Virginia, to Louisville, to Rhode Island, to Alabama, even Gardner-Webb. All different styles – some spread, some overpower you with size, good guard play – so we’ve had really good competition. I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve had really good depth, we’ve done it different ways with different people.”

WKU’s five-game winning streak started against Mississippi Valley State after back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Louisville, and the successful stretch was highlighted by wins against Rhode Island and at Alabama. The Hilltoppers last played Dec. 22, beating Tennessee Tech 88-68 without Charles Bassey. Bassey was withheld from the game as a precaution after suffering back spasms since taking an elbow against Alabama. Stansbury said Tuesday at that point he expected everyone available for this weekend’s games.

Charlotte (4-3) is riding a wave of momentum, too, with three straight wins and victories in four of its last five games. The three-game winning streak came against Davidson, North Carolina A&T and George Washington.

“Here’s all you have to know – they went to Davidson and won. That’s all you need to know,” Stansbury said. “... Davidson went to Rhode Island and won.”

The 49ers are led by guards Jahmir Young and Jordan Shepherd. Young averages 18.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and Shepherd averages 12.6 and 4.3. Milos Supica, Jhery Matos and Brice Williams – the other three starters for the team’s seven games – all average over 8.0 points.

“They’ve got two really good guards – Shepherd and Young – and it starts right there with those two guys. They can beat you by themselves,” Stansbury said. “They’re going to be real methodical offensively. They’re going to turn it over and turn it over and turn it over. They want to make the game in the 50s. They’re going to play back-line defense and try to keep the ball out of the paint.”

WKU split two games in the regular season with the 49ers last season at E.A. Diddle Arena. The Hilltoppers won 80-63 on Jan. 18, and lost 72-70 on Feb. 22. In the latter, Stansbury recalled WKU’s struggles to get the ball to the post with Bassey out with a season-ending injury, and Shepherd hit a runner off the glass with two seconds remaining to win. Tops forward Carson Williams did have 18 points in the loss, and Taveion Hollingsworth had 16, after putting up 30 in the first meeting.

“That was a good team last year and judging based on what I know, it’s going to be another challenge this year,” Williams said. “I just remember the bad feeling when they hit the game winner on us here last year. We’re just going to have to come in locked in, focused and everybody ready to go.”

Bassey currently leads WKU with 17.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. Hollingsworth is adding 14.3 points, and Josh Anderson, Jordan Rawls and Luke Frampton are all averaging at least 8.3 points.

“Last year we couldn’t throw it to the block at all, if you can remember. It was all attack outside in. Hopefully this year we can get it in there some,” Stansbury said. “Charles is much more of a factor in there defensively and offensively than we had last year with Carson at that five. They played well and they made some timely 3s, and that style they play, it’s just grinding and grinding style.”

WKU is scheduled to follow the two games at Charlotte with games at Diddle Arena against Louisiana Tech on Jan. 8 and 9.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (7-2) AT CHARLOTTE (4-3)

3 p.m., Friday/Saturday, Charlotte, N.C.

Probable starters

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Taveion Hollingsworth, g, 6-2, sr. (14.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Kenny Cooper, g, 6-0, r-sr. (2.9 ppg, 2.4 apg); Charles Bassey, c, 6-11, jr. (17.8 ppg, 11.4 rpg); Carson Williams, f, 6-5, r-sr. (5.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, sr. (9.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

CHARLOTTE

Jahmir Young, g, 6-2, so. (18.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Brice Williams, g, 6-7, so. (8.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Milos Supica, f, 6-9, sr. (9.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Jordan Shepherd, g, 6-4, r-sr. (12.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Jhery Matos, g, 6-5, gr. (8.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

Television

STADIUM/FOX SPORTS SOUTH/WKU PBS, Friday; STADIUM/WKU PBS (hour delay), Saturday

Radio

Hilltopper Sports Network

Coaches

Rick Stansbury (89-54, fifth year; 382-220 overall), WKU; Ron Sanchez (28-37, third year; 28-37 overall), Charlotte.

Series record

WKU leads the series 21-11 (The 49ers won 72-70 on Feb. 22 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Last time out

WKU beat Tennessee Tech 88-68 at home on Dec. 22; Charlotte won 66-65 at George Washington on Dec. 22.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.

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