— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Freshman Taevion Kinsey had a coming-out-at home party Saturday night in helping lead the Marshall University men’s basketball team to a dramatic 70-69 victory over Conference USA rival Western Kentucky in front of 7,687 fans inside Cam Henderson Center.
Kinsey, the C-USA Freshman of the Week last week after two solid games in his first two career starts, scored a game-high 23 points, grabbed a team-high seven rebounds with four on the offensive end and had zero turnovers in being the only player on either side to play all 40 minutes.
“I can’t describe how well he played. C-USA better be on the lookout the next 2-3 years,” Herd senior guard Jon Elmore said.
“He was the difference,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said.
“Thank God he’s here,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I’ll keep coaching as long as he keeps playing. He’s more athletic and really understands the game.”
Kinsey, who starred at Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, had a simple explanation for his performance.
“I play as hard as I can and do as well as I can do,” he said.
Marshall, which beat the Hilltoppers by a point in the C-USA championship game last season, had to come from way back to prevail. WKU (8-8, 1-2 C-USA) led by 15 points at one point in the first half, 42-31 at the half and all of the second half until 6-foot-9 Jannson Williams took a pass from Rondale Watson and nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Herd the lead 70-69.
After a timeout by the Hilltoppers, MU had a foul to give and committed it. The visitors had a final chance with four seconds left, but 6-foot-11 freshman Charles Bassey couldn’t handle a lob pass inside, a scramble for the ball followed and time ran out.
“We always fight,” the 6-5 Kinsey said. “We talked about what we weren’t doing at the half. We chipped away and came back.”
Williams, who had five of the Herd’s six blocks and six rebounds, said his final shot felt good as soon as it left his hands.
“One hundred percent pure,” he said. “Everybody trusts me. Everybody on this team trusts each other. Taevion really stepped up. Better pay attention to him.” Kinsey struck for 15 points in the second half.
Elmore finished with 21 points and five assists. Williams added 12 for the Herd (10-6, 3-0 C-USA).
Taveion Hollandsworth, a sophomore, led the Hilltoppers with 20 points. Bassey totaled 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting with many of the baskets dunks. He pulled down eight rebounds, but had to sit some due to foul trouble along with a foot injury in the closing stages.
WKU held a 69-67 lead with 1:26 left on a basket by Lamonte Bearden. Stansbury said things could’ve been done differently in the closing seconds, but called the outcome a learning experience.
“They spread out, five guys at the three-point line,” Stansbury said. “You don’t give up a three. Make them drive it, press up, foul, you get the ball back. Give Williams credit. He made the big shot.”
“Jon pushed the envelope,” D’Antoni said.
Elmore’s known for his drives to the basket. He made one on that go-head basket, passed to Watson who then fed a wide-open Williams.
“Told Jon not to force a shot, Rondale saw a better shot and made the pass,” D’Antoni said. “Told Jansson to stand there, he’ll be open. Welcome to Hillbilly Ball. We’ve got five guys who can play all the way around. We have the advantage at the three-point line. Tonight proves it.”
“At some point Jon Elmore will impose his will on you,” Stansbury said. “We have to do the things we do for 40 minutes. Not 30, 35 to beat a good team like Marshall. In a close game, there’s a fine line (between a win/or loss). Never should’ve come down to that.”
Elmore said it boiled down to following the Herd’s plan.
“Caught the ball, was exhausted, passed to Rondale who got it to Jansson,” Elmore said. “We got the ball in the shot pocket. We trust Jannson. Coach has our back and that’s huge. W’ve got guys who can hit the three. We didn’t shoot well early from the field, but that will come. You have to find other ways to score. Plus we battled the whole game and locked in on defense.”
Marshall’s off until Thursday when Florida Atlantic vists at 7 p.m. The three-game homestand wraps up next Saturday when FIU comes to town for a 7 p.m. contest.
The Hilltoppers, who played 11 of their first 16 games on the road, will start a three-game homestand Thursday when FIU rolls in.