Tops can't overcome brutal first half, fall 85-80 in opener

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A brutally bad first 20 minutes combined with an experienced and tough Missouri State team led to Western Kentucky’s season-opening loss, 85-80, at E.A. Diddle Arena on Friday.

The Bears (1-0) led by as many as 21 in the first half as WKU (0-1) turned the ball over at a high frequency and shot incredibly poorly from the field. The preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorites held an 11-point lead at the break and would never trail despite the Hilltoppers getting as close as one point in the second half.

J.T. Miller led MSU with 14 while Alize Johnson, Ronnie Rousseau and Reggie Scurry all added 12 and Obediah Church chipped in 11.

Western, which hosts Kentucky Wesleyan on Wednesday, got 24 points from Lamonte Bearden is his Western debut. Darius Thompson added 19 and Justin Johnson had 11 to go along with 15 rebound and three assists.

Freshmen Jake Ohmer and Taveion Hollingsworth combined for 10 points on just 4 of 13 shooting.

Trailing 66-64 as the clock past the 6-minute mark, MSU stretched its lead back out to 7267 with Church’s putback with 4:25 left. A Thompson free throw put Western within striking distance at 72-70, but Rousseau drilled a long 3 from the left side at the 2:06 mark.

Back-to-back alley oops to Dwight Coleby sandwiched around a Rousseau jumper in the lane made the score 77-74 with 1:15 to play.

The Hilltoppers had the ball at that same score, but Dwight Coleby clanged a long-range jumper off the right side of the backboard. Western made it an 82-80 game with 16 seconds on Thompson’s final 3 of the night – and WKU’s final score as well.

Missouri State outscored WKU 44-26 in the paint and shot 56 percent in the field.

The Bears came out hot and took a 10-3 lead thanks in part to a 4 of 5 shooting clip from the field. Jarrid Rhodes expanding that lead to 12-3 with a jumper from the left elbow with three seconds on the shot clock and Ryan Kreklow made it 15-4 with a left corner 3.

Tanveer Bhuallar’s jumper from the left side followed by Miller’s fastbreak dunk gave MSU a 19-4 lead and a Miller putback pushed the score to 21-4 with just more than seven minutes gone by. Alize Johnson drained a 3 after Western’s eight turnover in the first 7 1/2 minutes putting the Bears up 24-4.

The Hilltoppers went 8:16 without making a single field goal. State went up all the way 32-11 with a nasty, one-handed put-back jam by Miller at the 9:54 mark. Bearden finally broke WKU’s woeful drought with a three-point play eight seconds later.

Missouri State cooled off after a 15-for-21 start and its propensity to foul allowed WKU to hang around by making 14 of its first 17 shits from the line to get within 34-20.

Down 40-24, Ohmer had a chance to ignite the crowd with a 3 from the right wing on the fastbreak – but missed. Mustafa Lawrence canned a triple on the other end to put MSU up 17 at 43-26.

Western had one last run in the tank and used a 8-2 run to get within 45-34 at the break. A Bearden 3 from the right side followed by two Justin Johnson free throws helped cut the deficit to 11 in an otherwise dreadful half for the home team.

The Hilltoppers were 7 of 22 from the field, committed 13 turnovers and had just two assists. State was whistled for 18 fouls and had three separate players with at least three personal fouls.

Western Kentucky started the second half with a fury and drew to 47-44 with 17:18 to go – but Coleby picked up his fourth foul during that span. A few seconds later, Alize Johnson was charged his fourth as well.

A Marek Nelson free throw got WKU within 49-48 and a Thompson layup got WKU within 51-50 before a Miller bucket gave MSU breathing room at 53-50 with 13:33 to play. Scurry’s spin and jumper on the right baseline pushed the edge to 55-50.

Rousseau’s 3 from the left corner followed by his own layup helped complete a 9-1 Bears run and made it 60-52 with 12 minutes to go.

State keep the score at arm’s length for the next four minutes until Hollingsworth hit a 3 from the right wing with 7:45 to go that drew Western to 66-60. A pair of Justin Johnson free throws put the score at 66-62 and a Thompson layup after that put WKU down two, setting up the final six minutes.

NOTES

• Johnson is now 35th on WKU’s all-time scoring list with 1,113 career points.

• Johnson has 25 career doubles, tied with James Johnson for eighth-most in a WKU career.

• WKU is now 12-2 in its last 14 home openers and 80-19 in season openers.

• The Hilltoppers had won 14 straight nonconference home games.

• Missouri State is now 26-10 in season openers (and 8-1 in their last eight) since moving to Division I.

• Western Kentucky has now made at least one 3 in 939 straight games.

• Attendance on Friday was announced as 5,241.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop