Western Kentucky kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive by finishing strong against Southern Miss en route to a semifinals win Friday in the Conference USA Tournament.
The Hilltoppers erased a halftime deficit and a late lead by the Golden Eagles to advance to Saturday’s championship game. WKU(20-13) ended the game on a 23-11 run to win 70-59 over Southern Miss(20-12).
WKU took an early lead before the Golden Eagles went on a 7-0 run to take a 9-5 advantage. Kevin Holland pushed the lead to 12-5 with a 3-pointer with 15:32 to play in the first half.
Jared Savage ended the run with a layup at the 15:02 mark. The Hilltoppers cut the lead to 12-10 after Josh Anderson made a jumper, drew a foul and knocked down a free throw.
Lamonte Bearden’s trey cut the lead to 14-13 with 12:50 to play in the first half. Bearden tied the score at the 11:52 mark by making one of two free throw attempts, and the put WKU back in front a few possessions later with a layup.
Southern Miss responded with a 6-0 run to push back in front 20-16, but a dunk by WKU’s Taveion Hollingsworth at the 5:38 mark again tied the score. Anderson later hit Bearden with an assist that led to a WKU bucket and a 24-20 lead with 3:45 left in the first half.
Southern Miss pushed back and tied the score at 27 with 1:23 left in the half on a Cortez Edwards layup.
Following a Southern Miss turnover, WKU had an opportunity to hold for the final shot of the half, but Bearden was whistled for traveling and the Golden Eagles got one more chance to put points on the board. Edwards made the Hilltoppers pay for the turnover, as he drained a jumper with one second left on the clock to give Southern Miss a 29-27 lead at the break.
The second half continued to be a back-and-forth affair between the teams. Anderson sank a jumper to put WKU ahead 44-42 with 12:01 left in the game. Tyree Griffin then put Southern Miss back on a top with a 3-pointer.
After Anderson put WKU back out front by making a pair of free throws, Griffin made a jumper and then hit a free throw to give the lead back to the Golden Eagles.
WKU made a pivotal 7-0 run to take a 54-48 lead that included a Charles Bassey dunk with 5:52 left in the game. LaDavius Draine ended the run with a 3-pointer with 4:48 to play, but Hollingsworth quickly responded with a layup for the Hilltoppers.
With 2:49 to play, Hollingsworth hit a 3-pointer to push the WKU lead to 59-51 and break the spirit of Southern Miss.
Anderson led WKU with 18 points, while Hollingsworth added 17. Bassey had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
WKU will play Old Dominion at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the C-USA title game.
Source:: Daily times