It started with a marriage proposal. It finished with a bang.
Western Kentucky senior Justin Johnson proposed to his long-time girlfriend before the start of Saturday’s game (she said yes) then went out and led his Hilltoppers to a 88-66 win over Old Dominion in front of 7,387 giddy fans inside E.A. Diddle Arena.
The four-year senior scored 19 – 17 in the first half – and pulled in 11 rebounds. The Tops (22-7, 14-2 Conference USA) led for all but 19 seconds when the game was scoreless.
Dwight Coleby, also playing his final game at Diddle Arena, added 11 points to go along with eight boards. Fellow senior Darius Thompson had eight assists, 11 points and six rebounds.
Taveion Hollingsworth scored 20, Lamonte Bearden had 10 and Western shot 59.3 percent from the floor.
Western Kentucky heads to Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday to face No. 24 Middle Tennessee (22-5, 14-1 Conference USA).
The final numbers pic.twitter.com/wSUl1McrqO— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 25, 2018
The Hilltoppers came out blazing from the start, taking a 14-3 lead after a Johnson 3 from the right wing and a Coleby three-point play. The Tops made five of their first seven shots and registered three steals.
The fun didn’t stop there thanks to Thompson tipping a loose ball out to midcourt to Coleby who sent it back to Thompson for a two-handed jam. A few minutes later Hollingsworth buried a right-corner 3 as the shot clock expired to make it 26-9.
Ahmad Caver began to heat up for ODU and cut the margin to 31-19 with his second 3 of the game. But Jake Ohmer came off the bench for a counter and splashed a right-wing 3 to put the Tops ahead 40-23 with four minutes to go in the half.
The Hilltoppers rode that momentum into the half, up 46-30. They shot 56.7 percent, 8-for-10 from the line, recorded 11 assists on 17 makes and turned the ball over just once. Johnson scored 17 on 6 of 8 shooting and made two 3s.
HALFTIME— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) February 25, 2018
Western Kentucky 46
Old Dominion 30 pic.twitter.com/GIIRHyJXzp
There was not slowing down in the second half – seven straight from Hollingsworth early on pushed the lead to 57-34 and forced an ODU timeout. Old Dominion was stunned and never found any way to make a late run at the result.
Caver finished with 15 to lead the Monarchs (22-6, 13-3 CUSA) who saw the nation’s longest active conference road winning streak come to and end at nine.
• Under coach Rick Stansbury, WKU is now 24-6 at home, 30-4 when leading at halftime, 32-0 when leading at the 5-minute mark, 34-14 when attempting more free throws than the opponent, 26-6 when finishing with more rebounds than the opponent, 20-4 when finishing with more assists than the opponent, 28-6 when allowing 69 points or less, 9-6 in February and 14-11 on Saturday.
• The Hilltoppers have now made at least one 3 in 967 straight games.
• Coleby (55) needs three blocks to crack WKU’s top 10 for blocks in a single season.
• Thompson now has 143 assists, the ninth-most assists in a single WKU season. A.J. Slaughter is eighth with 147.
• Johnson (1,548) passed Steffphon Pettigrew (1,544) for 15th on WKU’s all-time scoring list. A.J. Slaughter is 14th with 1,581.
• Johnson is now fifth with 970 career rebounds at WKU. Jim McDaniels is fourth with 1,118.
• Johnson now has 34 career double-doubles, tying Greg Smith for the fifth-most in a WKU career.
• Johnson (485) is now in ninth for free throws attempted in a WKU career. McDaniels is eighth with 514.
• Johnson is ninth in WKU history with 3,455 minutes played. A.J. Slaughter is eighth with 3,550.
• Johnson is also now tied for eighth in WKU history having played 126 career games.
• Taveion Hollingsworth (394) moved past Mike Prince (386) for the fourth-most points by a freshman in a single WKU season. Derrick Gordon (412) is third.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 7,387 giving WKU a season average of 5,444 for the 2017-18 season – the highest average since the 2002-03 season saw 5,473 fans attend games on average.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop