One week ago, Western Kentucky wasn’t even involved in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Now, the Hilltoppers (2-0) could win the tournament on Friday with a victory in the championship game against No. 15 West Virginia (2-0).
Western Kentucky gained entry into the tournament after Creighton bowed out due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests.
The Hilltoppers made the most of their new-found opportunity, posting a 93-87 win over Northern Iowa on Wednesday before notching a 75-69 victory over Memphis the following day.
Despite his team’s early good fortune, Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“We take all games one at a time,” Stansbury said. “They all count one win, one loss. You don’t get two wins with last night or tonight, they’re all one win or one loss. I do think there’s something more special with these wins because (they are) early-season wins, they’re against great competition and it’s on a national stage against two of the better teams in the country.
“When you add those things up, we’re still 2-0, but it’s a pretty special 2-0 considering the two teams we played.”
Preseason All-Conference USA selection Taveion Hollingsworth followed his 26-point performance versus the UNI with 18 points against the Tigers.
Junior center Charles Bassey turned it up a notch after recording 11 points and eight rebounds in the opener by finishing with 21 and 14 against Memphis. He had a career-high seven blocks while playing in his second contest since sustaining a season-ending leg injury last December.
“It was pretty good just getting back to my old self and just playing to my capability,” Bassey said. “I felt good playing with my teammates, they gave me the ball in the second half. We were on a roll.”
Bassey is no stranger to West Virginia. He had 13 points and 15 rebounds in the Hilltoppers’ 63-57 victory over the Mountaineers on Nov. 16, 2018.
On Thursday, fellow big man Carson Williams added 14 points and nine rebounds for Western Kentucky, which outrebounded Memphis, 44-32.
“One big thing for me this game was hitting offensive boards hard,” Williams said. “I tried to take the mismatches that Coach said I had, use my physicality to exploit that and hit the glass hard. The same thing on the offensive end there in the second half.”
“I think they’ve got two really good bigs,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Their other big (Williams) kind of put the game away today, being able to post and score around the rim.
“We are what we are,” Huggins said. “This is Derek (Culver’s) third year and Oscar (Tshiebwe’s) second year and they know what they’ve got to do.”
Culver collected 23 points and 15 rebounds and Tshiebwe had 11 and 16 in West Virginia’s 78-66 victory over Virginia Commonwealth.
“We’ve been trying to get Derek to slow down and when he slows down like he did (Thursday), you can see how effective he can be,” Huggins said.
Against VCU, Sean McNeil scored 16 points to match his career-high set on Wednesday in the Mountaineers’ 79-71 win over South Dakota State. Miles McBride scored 12 against VCU, following his career-high 23-point performance of Wednesday.
–Field Level Media