Late Rally Dooms Tops as WKU falls to (15) WVU, 70-64

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball led 15th-ranked West Virginia by 10 in the second half Friday, but couldn’t hold off a game-changing Mountaineer run in a 70-64 loss in the championship game of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.

WKU (2-1) went up 48-38 with 15:40 left on a fast-break dunk by junior center Charles Bassey and still led by 10 after a three-point play by Bassey a minute later, but West Virginia responded with a 26-7 run to go from down 10 to up nine in about 10 minutes.

Bassey and senior guard Taveion Hollingsworth both briefly left the game during that stretch with minor injuries, which disrupted the rhythm that had put WKU on a 9-0 run early in the second half.

“They present so many problems through 40 minutes of the game,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Through 40 minutes they were better. I know we got the loss, but I couldn’t be more proud of how our guys battled. We didn’t play perfect. We had a segment there of six straight possessions where there were four bad out of six. It kind of allowed them to spurt back in it. But it had nothing to do with our effort and how our guys fought. There’s no moral victories, but I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts.

“Obviously there’s things we still have to get better at. I thought when Tay went down with a hurt thumb, I thought that kind of changed the tempo of the game a little bit at that point. Again, you’ve got to find ways to play through that. You can’t let it affect you emotionally, you can’t let it affect what things you do. We didn’t get the win, but I’m awfully proud of the way these guys fought in these three games. This wasn’t no training trip we went on. We got thrown into the fire with these three teams. Like I said, I’m proud of our effort.”

The loss came after WKU defeated Northern Iowa and Memphis – ranked 78th and 38th in the latest Ken Pomeroy Ratings, respectively – in the first two rounds on consecutive days.

“We’ve got a lot of experience this year, so that helps us a lot,” senior guard Josh Anderson said. “Just these three games, coming in and not having an exhibition game or anything like that, we played tough competition so that was big for us. I think we learned a lot just from those first two games definitely and this last game for sure.”

The Hilltoppers led 36-33 at halftime after shooting 51.7% in the first half. They got that done with Bassey limited to three minutes by foul trouble, largely leaning on redshirt senior forward Carson Williams’ eight points and four rebounds before the break.

WKU raced out of halftime to a 10-point advantage, but West Virginia (3-0) quickly chipped away and then kept pouring it on. The Mountaineers’ lead surged to 64-55 with 3:59 left on a 3-pointer by Sean McNeil.

WKU didn’t quit, however, and climbed back within four at 66-62 on a tip putback by Bassey.

West Virginia made four free throws in the final 43 seconds to hold on.

Bassey led WKU with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in just 18 minutes. He was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Hollingsworth added 13 points, while Williams and Anderson each chipped in 10.

Tournament MVP Derek Culver paced West Virginia with 15 points.

The Hilltoppers will stay on the road and head into their next bubble event, which includes three games in Louisville’s Wade Houston Tipoff Classic.

WKU will first face the host Cardinals at 5 p.m. CT Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center. The game will air on ACC Network.

“We know, which we already knew, how good we can be this year,” Williams said. “Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome of the game today, but the fight we put up against them and the other teams we’ve played throughout this tournament just shows what we have the opportunity to do this year.”