Western Kentucky will play for a trip to the NCAA Tournament tonight.
Josh Anderson scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Taveion Hollingsworth and Charles Bassey came up big in the late going as the Hilltoppers posted a 70-59 victory over Southern Mississippi in the semifinals of the Conference USA Basketball Tournament Friday afternoon at Frisco, Texas.
No. 2 seed WKU (20-13) meets No. 1 seed Old Dominion (25-8) at 7:30 for the title (CBS Sports Network).
“We played them twice at their place and lost a couple of close ones — they’re tough,” Western coach Rick Stansbury said of regular-season champ ODU, coached by former Apollo High School star Jeff Jones.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us, but we’re happy to have the opportunity to play them again for the championship.”
Friday’s victory also wrapped up WKU’s 45th 20-win season — seventh-best nationally all time.
In beating Southern Miss (20-12) for the third time this season, the Hilltoppers dominated the glass (44-27 rebounding advantage and 18-0 in second-chance points), and made 18 more free throws than the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss was within 56-51 with just under three minutes to play, but a 3-pointer by Hollingsworth, a tip-in by Bassey, and two Hollingsworth free throws pushed the Topper lead to 12 with 1:22 remaining.
The Golden Eagles never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“We played with extra energy and toughness with the game on the line,” Stansbury said. “and Charles (Bassey) went to war in there late — we showed up well again in the hustle stats.”
In addition to the production of Anderson, who also had three assists and two steals, Hollingsworth scored 17 points and Bassey produced 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. Point guard Lamonte Bearden added 10 points and four assists.
Western limited Southern Miss to 38 percent shooting and had a hand in 16 Golden Eagle turnovers.
USM was paced by Tyree Griffin’s game-best 19 points.
WKU will play in the C-USA title for the second straight season, having dropped a 67-66 heartbreaker to Marshall in last year’s finale.