WKU gets in the right state of mind in second half to pull away from Raiders

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Western Kentucky by no means played its best basketball Saturday. It still pulled away from visiting Wright State with ease for a 78-60 win inside E.A. Diddle Arena, the team’s fourth straight.

A 15-3 run midway through the second half helped the Hilltoppers (6-2) build a 23-point lead. Once again they used a balanced scoring effort with five players in double figures led by Darius Thompson's 18.

Lamonte Bearden dropped 15, Justin Johnson and Taveion Hollingsworth each had 13 and Dwight Coleby scored 10. Thompson also had seven rebounds and five assists, Johnson pulled in 12 boards and Coleby finished with eight rebounds.

Western Kentucky has the week off before traveling to Ohio (5-3) on Dec. 10, the team’s first road game of the season.

Western started the game on a 10-3 run after 3s from Johnson and Thompson and a Johnson layup after a Thompson dish to the left baseline. But Wright State weathered the early storm, and after starting the game 1-for-7 with four turnovers finally put together some shots to get within 13-10 on Mark Hughes’ left-wing 3.

The Raiders kept coming and coming and took their first lead of the day at 23-22 on Grant Benzinger’s right-side 3 with 7:11 to go in the half. That woke WKU up some as Johnson splashed a 3 on the other end before finishing an alley-oop from Thompson to put the Tops up 27-24. Bearden’s three-point play on a fastbreak made it a 30-26 score with just less than five minutes remaining until the half.

Up 30-28, the Hilltoppers went on an 11-2 run to end the half and finished the flash of offense with a Johnson three-point play. The senior forward ended the first 20 minutes with 13 points on 5 of 8.

Western registered 11 assists on 14 made shots in the first half – but also turned the ball over seven times.


Wright State closed the gap to 43-37 on a Benzinger triple from the top of the key only to see WKU answer with a 7-2 run finished by a Hollingsworth floater in the lane. Marek Nelson’s hustle play – one that had him diving on the floor for a loose ball and passing it ahead while rolling over – led to a Hollingsworth fastbreak layup and a 52-39 Hilltoppers’ advantage.

Leading by that same margin, Bearden broke a zone by driving into the lane from the left side and dishing into the right corner for a Hollingsworth 3. Nelson’s reverse layup pushed the score to 59-41 with 11:45 left.

That was all part of the decisive run. Thompson’s three-point play on the fastbreak put Western up 67-44 and WSU had no chance of a comeback.

Benzinger lead the Raiders (4-4) with 19.

NOTES

• WKU won a fourth straight nonconference game for the first time since 2012. The program has not strung together five straight nonconference wins since winning six straight to start the 2004-05 season.

• Johnson (2,009 career points) moved into 28th on the program’s all-time scoring list passing Michael Fralix and Owen Lawson on Saturday.

• Western Kentucky has now made at least one 3 in 946 straight games.

• Western Kentucky is 5-2 for the first time since 2012 when the Hilltoppers started 8-2.

• Under Rick Stansbury, WKU is now 15-4 at home, 18-3 when leading at halftime, 18-0 when leading with five minutes to play, 17-5 when out-rebounding the opponent and 8-6 in November.

• Attendance on Wednesday was announced as 4,165 giving WKU an average of 4,432 after five home games this season.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop