Hilltoppers beat ODU 57-49

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers guard Josh Anderson (4) hugs guard Lamonte Bearden (1) during WKU's 57-49 win over ODU on Friday, March 9, 2018, at The Ford Center at The Star. (Austin Anthony / photo@bgdailynews.com)

NORFOLK, Va. – Western Kentucky has twice taken Old Dominion down to the wire on its home court. It’s come up short both times.

A third meeting could take place next month, more than 1,000 miles west of Norfolk at the Conference USA Tournament in Frisco, Texas.

Hilltopper coach Rick Stansbury reminded his team Saturday of that opportunity.

“Like I told them, we’ll see this team again,” Stansbury told the Daily News after WKU’s 67-63 loss. “This is one of the best teams in the league. Someone’s got to beat them. Maybe we’ll have a chance to see them again in Texas.”

The Toppers (16-12 overall, 9-6 Conference USA) will no doubt be motivated if they get another meeting with the Monarchs (22-6, 12-3).

They’ve faced the league’s first-place squad twice now on its home floor at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. ODU has won those games by a combined seven points.

“This is a team we think we are going to see,” WKU guard Lamonte Bearden said. “And we hope we see this team.”

On Saturday, WKU led 63-60 after a Bearden basket with 1:25 left. Monarchs guard Xavier Green tied the game 11 seconds later with a 3-pointer, then hit the go-ahead basket on a jumper with 16 seconds left.

The Hilltoppers were shut out on each of their final three possessions, and they trudged back to the visitors’ locker room with a four-point defeat.

Stansbury was proud of his team’s effort in a second half where it shot 60.7 percent and outscored Old Dominion 33-12 in the paint. But a first half where WKU scored only 21 points erased his team’s late margin for error.

“I thought we were really good the second half,” Stansbury said. “But again, you’ve got to be really good for 40 minutes on the road.

“You can’t get yourself behind at halftime by not playing well and come out the second half, play well and get back in it. You leave too many things to chance down the stretch.”

The Tops’ loss Saturday followed a 69-66 defeat seven weeks earlier in Norfolk. In that Jan. 5 matchup, WKU went up 21-0 in the opening minutes, only to give up the lead and fall by three points.

Coach Jeff Jones’ Monarchs are 14-1 at home this season, with two of those victories coming over the Hilltoppers. Its only home loss was a 70-67 decision Jan. 3 vs. Marshall.

Old Dominion’s 12 home wins against teams not named WKU have come by an average of 13.5 points, while its two over the Toppers have been by an average of 3.5.

Both teams are guaranteed a top-five seed at the C-USA Tournament thanks to the league’s new bonus-play format. The Hilltoppers and Monarchs earned spots in the top five-team bonus-play group with their performances over their first 14 league games.

Old Dominion is a heavy favorite to hold the top seed next month in Frisco. It can clinch that distinction if it wins Thursday night at Texas-San Antonio.

WKU is tied for third in the league standings. Finishing fourth or fifth in the league would put the Tops on track to face the Monarchs in the conference semifinals for the second straight year – WKU prevailed last March in a 57-49 slugfest.

Securing the second or third seed would open the possibility of a third ODU vs. WKU meeting in the C-USA title game.

Hilltopper guard Taveion Hollingsworth has twice seen his team go on the road and push the Monarchs into the final minutes. He’s confident about WKU’s chances if a third matchup comes next month.

“We don’t think anybody is better than us,” the sophomore Hollingsworth said. “We’re ready to play anybody.”{&end}

– Follow Daily News sports reporter Brad Stephens on Twitter @BradBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

Bowling Green Daily News sports reporter primarily covering Western Kentucky football and men's basketball.

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