FRISCO, Texas – WKU Hilltopper Basketball’s comeback effort fell short in Saturday’s Conference USA Tournament championship game.
WKU (20-7) came back from a 17-point deficit six minutes into the game to take a second-half lead, but was ultimately defeated by North Texas in a 61-57 overtime loss.
The Hilltoppers will now wait for postseason selection shows on Sunday evening to determine their fate.
North Texas (17-9) jumped out to a 17-0 lead, scoring three 3-pointers, three other field goals and two free throws in the first six minutes of the game. The six-minute scoring drought by the Hilltoppers was stopped by four consecutive points by senior guard Josh Anderson and a long-range ball by sophomore guard Jordan Rawls.
WKU came as close as eight points in the first half at the 10:41 mark, but would entire halftime in a 34-23 deficit, scoring the last five points of the period.
For the first 17:03 of the second half, WKU outscored North Texas 25-7. At one point, the Hilltoppers scored 13 unanswered between 14:17 and 7:32, including nine from junior center Charles Bassey.
The 25 points brought WKU from down 34-23 to up 48-41 with 2:57 to play. The Hilltoppers did not score again in regulation as the Mean Green netted three baskets to force overtime.
“I thought our guys came out of the locker room and we won the first three four-minute stances,” said head coach Rick Stansbury. “We took the lead by seven or eight… We had some plays you just can’t make right there. Everything gets magnified towards the end. We missed a one-and-one with 30 or 40 seconds to go. Gave them a chance to come back and get into overtime.”
Immediately in overtime, Rawls nailed his third 3-pointer of the evening. North Texas responded with two baskets to take a 52-51 lead with 3:09 remaining. WKU would take one final one-point lead before North Texas finished off overtime with a 6-2 run.
“Everybody hurts so much because of how hard we had to fight and how we seized that game,” added Stansbury. “They scored 14 points in the second half. That’s all they scored, shooting 19%. You’re down 11, but able to go up eight. I’ve got to find a way to help us make a play, make one more free throw. I’ve got to help us do that. Help us not turn it over. Again, time and score changes situations in games. Winning and losing is a fine line, you’ve heard me say that a bunch, and it was definitely a fine line today.”
“We didn’t make the plays down the stretch that we needed to make,” said Rawls. “We didn’t hold on to the ball, we had turnovers and that charge call. We didn’t get the stops that we needed.”
The Hilltoppers are now 6-5 in overtime games under Stansbury and 9-7 in conference championship games since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 1982-83.
North Texas’ Javion Hamlet led the Mean Green, playing all 45 minutes and scoring 20 points.
Anderson led WKU in scoring with 14 points, shooting a perfect 7 for 7 from the charity stripe.
Bassey finished the game with his 16th double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds, with all 11 boards coming in the second half.
“That’s one thing about our team, we’re going to fight and we fought,” said Bassey on the second-half comeback. “We’re going to fight and we fought. We got back, we got the lead, we were winning. They came back, they hit a big time shot to get back in the game. There’s nothing else we could do, we were trying to win. It didn’t go our way this time.”
COURTESY WESTERN KENTUCKY ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS