Hilltoppers Clip Boston College Eagles 79-62 in NIT Opener

03/14/2018 12:21 AM

by Ryan Dearbone

The Hilltoppers could have laid an egg in the NIT after losing a heartbreaking Conference USA title game to Marshall. Instead, the Tops decided it would be better to show the NCAA selection committee just what they missed out on.

The Tops struggled early against the Eagles of Boston College from the Atlantic Coast Conference. There were moments when the Tops had all of the momentum and then times where the Tops couldn’t get any traction.

However, led by senior forward, Justin Johnson, the Hilltoppers found the right rhythm late in the second quarter and started to take off. The Tops outscored BC 22-9 in the second quarter. Johnson was a monster on the boards with 12 on the defensive glass. He also poured in 19 points in the effort. His game was complimented by fellow senior, Darius Thompson who added in 17 points.

The Eagles two-headed monster of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman combined for 35 points. Often described as one of the most potent backcourts in college basketball, Bowman and Robinson had little help from the rest of their teammates. Tuesday night’s Eagles squad did not resemble the team that collected two wins in the ACC tournament and has a victory over the then number 1 team in the land, Duke Blue Devils.

The Hilltoppers however, got their swag back and had fun on the court, dancing smiling and feeding off of the roaring Diddle Arena crowd.

“I think every player on this team, they don’t want this season to end. This is one of the best teams that we’ve all been together. I really appreciate the seniors for playing. They show me more and more every game, every practice. I appreciate that,” notes Hollingsworth.

“I’ve been proud of them seniors all year long,” adds Stansbury.

Lexington product and former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, Taveion Hollingsworth displayed the skills that have quickly made him a fan favorite amongst the Diddle Arena faithful. Hollingsworth contributed 18 points to the cause including a buzzer beating 3-pointer at the close of the third frame. However Hollingsworth’s biggest achievement of the night came at the free throw line, where he sank two buckets to tie and then pass Hilltopper legend and current New York Knick, Courtney Lee, as the all-time freshman scoring leader for WKU.

“I told Courtney I was coming for it, “ joked Hollingsworth. “It really wasn’t much of a goal until I was scoring and Zach started telling me I was coming close to it.”

“I didn’t see Courtney play as a freshman, but I can say this and Courtney will probably hear this. Courtney didn’t defend like Taveion defended as a freshman. So for him to become the all-time leading scorer and to defend like he defends, he deserves a lot of credit,” Stansbury said.

The stage wasn’t too big for the Tops even though the school hasn’t appeared in a post-season basketball tournament since 2013. Stansbury was thankful to play another game in the warm confines of Diddle Arena for a crowd of more than 6,000 people. Yet, he did express regret for not being better for his guys when they need him on Saturday in the heartbreaking last second loss to the Conference USA champs, Marshall Thundering Herd.

However, Stansbury said the smiles on the players faces Tuesday night after the win has been great for all involved. Now, like Stansbury says his boys will be ready as they head into the second round to face either the USC Trojans or UNC Asheville.


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