WKU eases past Southern Miss to start league play 2-0

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Western Kentucky filled up the stat sheet once again Saturday as it eased past Southern Mississippi 82-66 inside E.A. Diddle Arena.

Five Hilltoppers scored in double figures led Dwight Coleby's 20 points and seven rebounds. Darius Thompson’s finished with 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds while going 4 of 9 from 3.

Forward Justin Johnson added 15 to compliment 13 rebounds and Lamonte Bearden had 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Taveion Hollingsworth scored 12 thanks to a second-half, buzzer-beating 3.

Western (10-5, 2-0 Conference USA) finished with 22 assists on 26 made field goals and became the first team since 2012-13 to reach 10 wins before January. It has next week off before playing at Marshall at 6 p.m. CST next Saturday.

After a slow start, Western scored 10 straight and took a 12-2 lead 4 1/2 minutes into the game. Three of WKU’s first four makes came courtesy of a Bearden assist, one being a Thompson left-corner 3 and another being a Taveion Hollingsworth left-corner 3.

The Hilltoppers went more than 5 1/2 minutes without scoring yet were still enjoying a 17-9 lead after a bucket down low from Marek Nelson. Johnson’s short lob to Coleby for a two-handed alley-oop after that put the Tops up 10.

Jake Ohmer came off the bench and knocked down a pair of 3s to give WKU a 27-18 lead with six minutes to play in the half. Johnson drained a second 3 – Western’s sixth triple of the first half – to put the Tops up 30-23.

Western Kentucky settled for a 32-25 lead at the break and registered 12 assists on all 12 made field goals. It also shot 6 of 14 from 3 and held USM to 29.4 percent shooting.

Bearden helped WKU open a 39-27 lead early in the second half with a three-point play on the fastbreak. Thompson then hit a long 3 three minutes in making it a 44-31 advantage for the home team.

Another Thompson 3 followed by a Hollingsworth three-point play put WKU ahead by 19 with 15 minutes remaining.

Kevin Holland’s 3 with 7:43 to play got USM within 59-50, but that would be as close as the margin got down the stretch.

Tyree Griffin scored 14 to lead the Golden Eagles (7-8, 0-2 CUSA).


• Saturday’s matchup between WKU and USM was the ninth in a series dating back to 1958. The Hilltoppers have now won eight of nine matchups.

• Western Kentucky has made at least one 3 in 953 straight games.

• WKU senior forward Justin Johnson (1,308 career points) passed Tony Wilson for 22nd on WKU’s all-time scoring list. Chuck Rawlings is 21st with 1,314.

• Johnson needs 28 rebounds to move into the top 10 on WKU’s all-time career rebounding list. Dwight Smith is 10th with 856.

• Hollingsworth passed Caden Dickerson (15th; 199) and A.J. Slaughter (14th; 200) for points in a season by a WKU freshman. The Lexington native now has 207 for the year.

• Western Kentucky had 11 games with 20 or more assists since 2013 coming into this year. It now has two such games in 15 contests this season (22 Saturday against USM).

• Under WKU coach Rick Stansbury, WKU is now 18-5 in home games, 21-4 when leading at halftime, 22-0 when leading at the 5-minute mark, 23-12 when attempting more free throws than the opponent, 18-6 when out-rebounding the opponent, 20-5 when allowing 69 points or fewer, 9-6 in December and 8-9 on Saturday.

• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 4,654 giving WKU a season average of 4,586.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop