Western Kentucky locked up a top-four seed in next month’s league tournament and set up a showdown with Old Dominion at 6 p.m. Saturday by thrashing visiting Charlotte 93-55 on Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Hilltoppers (21-7, 13-2 Conference USA) remain tied with ODU (22-5, 13-2) after the Monarchs won at Marshall on Thursday. Western, a game back of first-place Middle Tennessee, can create a virtual regular-season league title game next week if it can top Old Dominion this weekend.
Updated Conference USA standings pic.twitter.com/7KMEHQWtWY— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 23, 2018
A crowd of 5,634 on Thursday watched WKU begin to pull away toward the end of the first half and never look back. The Hilltoppers ended the first 20 minutes on a 14-0 run and led by as many as 39 in the second half.
Justin Johnson, in his penultimate home game, scored 16 to go along with five rebounds. Josh Anderson came off the bench to chip in 19, Darius Thompson added 12 points to compliment five assists, Taveion Hollingsworth finished with 12, Dwight Coleby scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and registered a pair of blocks and Lamonte Bearden had 10 points and five assists.
Thursday’s win gave Western Kentucky 21 wins in the regular season for the first time since 2008-09. The 38-point margin of victory was also the program's largest in a conference game since a 100-60 win over Arkansas State on Feb. 22, 2001.
Western got off to a slow start and found itself down 9-5 after Jailan Haslem’s dunk. Johnson helped WKU answer with a fastbreak, 360 slam followed by a right-corner 3 that put the Tops ahead 14-11.
Charlotte fought back to knot the score at 20-all before a long Thompson 3 from the top of the key. Marek Nelson got on the board with a simple layup making it 25-20 after running the break with Anderson.
The Hilltoppers took a six-point lead at 29-23 after back-to-back blocks led to Bearden running the floor and finishing a layup after a sneaky, fake behind-the-back pass. A few minutes later, four straight from Anderson helped WKU open a 36-27 advantage.
The 49ers went the final 5:15 without a single point as Western opened a 43-27 lead. The Hilltoppers shot 53.8 percent, registered nine assists, scored 17 points off turnovers and ended the half on a 14-0 run.
HALFTIME— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 23, 2018
Western Kentucky 43
Charlotte 27 pic.twitter.com/pGOtBkCnnT
Western didn’t take the foot off the gas out of the locker room, going up 52-31 on a Thompson jumper and 59-39 on an Anderson layup courtesy of a rocket of a Bearden pass. Another Anderson three-point play with 11 1/2 minute remaining followed by a jumper from the left elbow opened up a 67-44 Wester Kentucky lead – and Charlotte had no answers.
Jon Davis led the 49ers (5-21, 1-14) with 20 as Charlotte lost their 13th straight.
The numbers pic.twitter.com/OKT6JOo8PZ— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 23, 2018
Our very own @beINCOLLEGE basketball analysts Jason Capel and Mike Gleason have the highlights from tonight’s 38-point drubbing of @49ersbasketball by @wkubasketball at E.A. Diddle Arena. pic.twitter.com/Ry0z9Dcfuw— beIN COLLEGE SPORTS (@beINCOLLEGE) February 23, 2018
• Under coach Rick Stansbury, WKU is now 23-6 at home, 29-4 when leading at halftime, 31-0 when leading at the 5-minute mark, 33-14 when attempting more free throws than the opponent, 25-6 when finishing with more rebounds than the opponent, 19-4 when finishing with more assists than the opponent, 27-6 when allowing 69 points or less, 8-6 in February and 11-4 on Thursday.
• The Hilltoppers have made at least one 3 in 966 straight games.
• Coleby (54) needs four blocks to crack WKU’s top 10 for blocks in a single season.
• Thompson now with 135 assists, the 10th-most assists in a single WKU season. Orlando Mendez-Valdez (ninth) had 140 in 2008-09.
• Johnson (1,529) needs 16 points to move past Steffphon Pettigrew (1,544) for 15th on WKU’s all-time scoring list.
• Johnson is sixth with 959 career rebounds at WKU – Bob Daniels is fifth with 964 and Jim McDaniels is fourth with 1,118.
• Johnson is ninth in WKU history with 3,420 minutes played. A.J. Slaughter is eighth with 3,550.
• Hollingsworth (374) passed Kannard Johnson (370) for the fifth-most points scored in a single season by a WKU freshman. Mike Prince is fourth with 386.
• Attendance on Thursday was announced as 5,634 giving WKU a season average of 5,362 after 15 home games.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop