BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky — Friday night was a frustrating trip to E.A. Diddle Arena for Marshall’s men’s basketball team.
Marshall clawed all the way back from a 14-point deficit, only to see late mistakes hinder the team in an 81-73 loss to the Hilltoppers on Friday in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“We hate to lose to these guys,” Marshall guard Taevion Kinsey said. “It’s a rivalry game and I take it to heart.”
Kinsey was one of several Marshall players who had frustrating nights.
The Herd’s leaders are Kinsey and Jarrod West, but both struggled at times as Marshall (7-3, 1-2 C-USA) fell to the Hilltoppers.
Kinsey finished with 17 points, but had an atypical off night from the floor, hitting eight of 19 shots while committing four turnovers.
West, who did not practice over the last two weeks as part of Marshall’s contact tracing and COVID-19 quarantine, was just 3 of 13 from the floor.
“Obviously, that wasn’t Jarrod’s game,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He was rusty and he didn’t have his rhythm and his pace. Really, he labored most of the game.”
In a battle of Conference USA contenders, all eyes were on Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey and Kinsey.
Bassey did not disappoint, showing why some have him pegged as an NBA Draft pick and All-American, scoring 21 points while grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds in the win for Western Kentucky (10-4, 3-2).
While Bassey and Kinsey were the focus, it was Western Kentucky’s Josh Anderson that was the X-factor on Friday.
Anderson got hot early to lead the Hilltoppers to a 14-point advantage, and then hit the dagger for Western Kentucky with 2:02 left.
Anderson took the ball with time winding down in the shot clock and drained an 18-footer to put the Hilltoppers up nine.
It countered a surge by Marshall’s Jannson Williams, who finished with a team-high 19 points and got the Herd back into the game with his 3-point shooting. Williams was 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
“Jannson brung it in the second half — couldn’t miss,” Kinsey said. “He usually — I told him this is the place he always goes off and does good. He shot the lights out last year and the year before.”
Marshall trailed by as many as 14 points in the game, but the Herd used a 10-0 run sparked by Williams to cut it to a one-point game.
Williams flushed home a one-handed slam in transition before squeezing 3-pointers around a Kinsey offensive rebound and putback to get the Herd back within a point.
The Herd had a chance to take a lead, but an errant shot led to a transition 3-pointer by Poca standout Luke Frampton to stabilize things for Western Kentucky.
It was part of an initial surge in the second half in which the game showcased the athleticism of both teams with constant end-to-end action.
Williams joined Kinsey in some high-flying dunks for the Herd while Anderson and Bassey matched the excitement for the Hilltoppers in a battle of two of Conference USA’s most athletic and entertaining teams.
While the second half was exciting, the first half was a lopsided affair as the Hilltoppers took a big advantage.
Marshall guard Andrew Taylor knocked down a shot at the first half buzzer, but it only got the Herd back within 46-34 as Western Kentucky used its ability to win the rebounding battle and get to the free throw line to head to the locker room with a double-digit edge.
Bassey had as many rebounds in the first half as Marshall’s entire team (13) en route to an early double-double, but the key for the Hilltoppers was the late run by Anderson, who was a matchup problem for the Herd on Friday evening.
After Marshall cut the Western Kentucky lead to 30-27 following a basket by Kinsey, Anderson went to work with Herd guard Jarrod West on the bench with two fouls.
Anderson scored seven straight points, including a steal of Marshall’s Marko Sarenac in the backcourt that led to a 3-point play, to push the lead back to double-figures.
Western Kentucky scored 10 points at the foul line in the last five minutes of the first half and finished the game 19 of 21 from the line, as opposed to Marshall, who was just 2 of 5 and did not visit the foul line in the second half — much to the consternation of D’Antoni.
“Maybe we’re fouling too much, I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “If you look at that — 15 of 17 (in the first half). I think they had 15 makes. We had two. That’s tough, tough….If we’re fouling too much, try to clean it up.”
Marshall came into the game with just two days of practice for the majority of its starting lineup after COVID-19 contact tracing sat many of the players for the last 10 days.
The game was originally scheduled for Thursday, but Western Kentucky agreed to move the contest back one day to enable the matchup to take place.
The teams meet again on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cam Henderson Center in the back end of the home-and-home series.