WKU Men’s Basketball: Tops come up short in overtime, lost 81-76 to UTSA in regular season finale

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball went to overtime once again with UTSA in Diddle Arena on Wednesday night, but it was the Roadrunners who made big plays in the extra period to hand the Hilltoppers an 81-76 defeat in the regular-season finale.

The Hilltoppers (18-13 overall, 11-7 Conference USA) forced OT with a late free throw by redshirt senior Lamonte Bearden, but UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson scored 24 of 29 points after halftime, including nine in overtime, to pull it out.

“We’ve been in about six of them that’s a one-possession game that comes right to my mind,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Six of them, all one-possession games. There are some close ones that we’ve won. … Tonight, give them credit. I didn’t think we were as efficient as we have been in the last five or six games, especially late in that game offensively. … That’s number one, number two: I thought they beat us to every 50-50 ball. That’s what winning and losing is, that’s what a fine line it is, just go get that ball.”

WKU will wait for league play to conclude Saturday before it learns its seed, first opponent and game time in next week’s C-USA Tournament.

The Tops will play their first game in the conference tournament on Thursday, March 14 in the quarterfinals. If Southern Miss beats UTSA on Saturday, the Hilltoppers will be the No. 2 seed. If UTSA beats Southern Miss, WKU will be the No. 3 seed.

“We’ll be locked in,” sophomore forward Marek Nelson said. “Our young guys don’t really know it yet, but when it comes tournament time, this is a real 40-minute game. You’ve got to take every minute as serious like it’s the last one. We’re going to work on that during practice, make sure our bodies are right going down to Texas. We’re excited because we know at the end of the day, someone’s got to beat us on a win-or-go-home situation. We’ve got confidence that we’ll be able to do what we’ve got to do to bring it home.”

This was the first time WKU has played two overtime games against the same team in the same season since playing two OT games against East Tennessee State in 1977-78.

The Hilltoppers won the first overtime meeting on Jan. 31 in Diddle Arena, a 96-88 victory. Jackson poured in 46 points in that defeat – the most ever by an opponent in Diddle.

With WKU up two and less than a minute left in regulation Wednesday, Jackson stepped up and knocked down a deep 3 to put UTSA up 68-67 with 20 seconds left.

Bearden sank a free throw to tie it and came up with a steal to force extra time.

Freshman center Charles Bassey gave WKU the lead in overtime with a putback, but UTSA (17-13, 11-6) answered with a basket and the Hilltoppers never led again.

The teams went to halftime tied at 36-36 in a game that featured nine ties and 12 lead changes.

Bassey led WKU with 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks for his 15th double-double. Bearden had 17 points, eight assists and three steals on his Senior Night.

“We had a great crowd tonight, everybody in the crowd was in it,” Bearden said. “I think our team played pretty hard for the most part so you can’t be mad at them for that. It was a good senior night, even though we lost, and I appreciate everybody for that.”

Redshirt junior guard/forward Jared Savage added 14 points. Sophomores Taveion Hollingsworth and Marek Nelson tallied 10 and eight points, respectively.

WKU made just 3 of 9 shots in overtime and missed all four 3s, while UTSA made 3 of 4 shots and 6 of 8 free throws in OT.