BOWLING GREEN -- Thursday night's Hilltopper Hysteria in E.A. Diddle Arena gave Western Kentucky fans a taste of what to expect in the 2019-20 basketball season.

And they ate it up.

On the very day the team was picked to win Conference USA this season, the Hilltoppers showed why and then some before a captivated gathering of about 3,000.

"That's a taste of what's to come, but only a taste," junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth said. "There's a whole lot more to come."

Hollingsworth, who scored 14 points in the 24-minute intrasquad scrimmage, had plenty of company in terms of production.

Charles Bassey, the team's 6-foot-11 All-American candidate, produced team-highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds, also dishing three assists.

Camron Justice, a 6-3 graduate transfer from IUPUI, scored 17 points and made 5-of-7 shots from 3-point range.

Senior swingman Jared Savage and junior Carson Williams, a bruising 6-5 forward who transferred from Northern Kentucky, each scored 16 points, combining to make 12-of-18 shots.

Junior 6-6 guard Josh Anderson and true freshman point guard Jordan Rawls each scored 11 points, and point guard Kenny Cooper, a senior transfer from Lipscomb hoping to get NCAA clearance for the upcoming season, produced 10 points and a game-best seven assists.

"I've heard a lot about the atmosphere in here and it was great to be able to showcase my abilities a little bit in front of these great fans," Justice said. "We have unbelievable chemistry on this team and I think that was evident to the folks who showed up tonight.

"The name of the game is still to put the ball in the basket and we've got a bunch of guys who can do that on this team. I'm telling you, a lot of guys on this roster know how to play the game very well."

Last season, Western's inability to shoot from the perimeter with consistency, coupled with the team's inability to feed the ball efficiently to Bassey, became a maddening dilemma the Hilltoppers could never quite overcome.

Not so this year, believes fourth-year WKU head coach Rick Stansbury.

"You don't have to watch this team very long to understand that we shoot it better and we pass it better," Stansbury said. "When you can do this, it opens up the lane because the defense has to honor those outside shooters -- we've got multiple guys who can put it in the hole from distance and that's going to make a big difference for us."

As a unit on Thursday, the Toppers nailed 16-of-35 shots from beyond the arc (46%).

The marquee player, however, remains Bassey, a preseason First-Team All-American selection by Street & Smith's Basketball Yearbook and Lindy's Basketball.

"You've got to remember, this time last year Charles was just 17 years old, and here we are a year later and he's still only 18," Stansbury said. "He's trimmed himself down, he's in the best shape of his life, and he's getting better on the court every day -- more aggressive, more confident.

"He's mentally more relaxed this season, and that comes from the experience he gained as a high-profile freshman last year. There's still no substitute for experience."

Stansbury also has been impressed by the team's work ethic.

"From Day One, these players have been doing all the extra things it takes to succeed as a basketball team," Stansbury said. "These young men are working hard and their attitudes are great across the board. I like our mental approach to things -- this is a team willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.

"We like this team a bunch, a whole bunch."

Stansbury also confirmed that Western's men's program is close to selling out season tickets for the second year in a row, and he had a message for the students on hand Thursday night.

"When we have this place full, there is not a more difficult place in America (for opponents) to play than Diddle Arena," Stansbury said. "We need that student section packed every night -- and if we get that, it will set the tone and atmosphere every time we play.

"We can't do it without you."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.