Bowling Green, Ky. — Tyrone Brazelton scored seven of his 10 points in overtime Wednesday, including sinking four straight free throws in the final 27 seconds to help lead Western Kentucky University to a 69-62 non-conference basketball victory over Nebraska at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Steffphon Pettigrew put the Hilltoppers (6-2) up for good with two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound with a minute-and-a-half remaining, then Brazelton connected on a three-pointer from the right wing as the shot clock wound down to make the score 63-58 with 33 seconds to go. After he went 4-of-4 at the foul line, Courtney Lee closed out NU (5-2) by hitting both of his free-throw attempts with seven seconds remaining.
Aleks Maric, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds to lead all players in both categories, gave the Cornhuskers their only lead of the extra session by making 1-of-2 free throws a half-minute in. Lee answered with a three-point play to put the Toppers up two, but with two minutes to go Steve Harley hit a short baseline jumper to tie the score 58-58.
“I think it was an important win not just because we beat a Big 12 team, but because we found a way to win ugly,” said WKU head coach Darrin Horn. “We did it with defense, and we did it by fighting and scratching. Offensively, guys who weren’t good for stretches of the game found a way to step up and make big plays late.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys for how hard they played.”
Neither team led by more than two points over the final 3:51 of regulation after NU answered Lee’s follow-up slam dunk with a dunk from Maric on the other end of the floor. Each team went 1-of-2 at the foul line before Ade Dagunduro’s jumper with a minute-and-a-half remaining knotted the score 53-53.
Dagunduro matched Marics for game-high scoring honors after recording 17 points, and he added eight rebounds.
Mike Walker put back a missed shot with a minute left, but Dagunduro drew a foul and made both free throws to send the game to overtime.
After NU shot 52.6 percent from the floor in the second half to overcome a five-point deficit, WKU limited the Cornhuskers to 1-of-7 shooting — including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc — in overtime. While the Huskers finished the game connecting on 41.7 percent from the field and the Hilltoppers shot 40.4 percent overall, WKU hit 85.7 percent at the foul line compared to 67.9 percent for NU. Both teams committed more than 20 turnovers.
Lee finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Brazelton also handed out four helpers for the Toppers, who shot 9-of-21 from beyond the arc. Ty Rogers added 11 points and A.J. Slaughter eight, with the two combining to make 5-of-8 from long distance. Jeremy Evans paced WKU with a season-best eight rebounds and three blocks, while Walker collected five boards. Pettigrew posted seven points and four rebounds as well.
NU opened the second half by scoring five straight points to tie the game 29-29 just a minute and 15 seconds in. After it responded to three WKU baskets by forcing ties, Maric converted two free throws and Cookie Miller added a layup 18 second later for a 40-36 advantage to cap a 6-0 run and give the Cornhuskers their biggest lead of the night with 13 minutes to go.
Lee’s layup with seven-and-a-half minutes left pushed the Topper edge back to 48-43, but Ryan Anderson sank a three and Maric followed with a layup to tie the contest again with 5:42 to go.
In all, there were 10 ties and seven lead changes.
Anderson was the only other Husker to finish in double figures scoring, recording 12 points before fouling out.
And, while Maric and Dagunduro combined to grab 21 rebounds, NU won the battle of the boards by just three, 34-31.
It was Rogers who put WKU in front for the most of the opening period when he hit the second of two straight three-pointers with just under 16 minutes to go in the opening half, making the score 8-7. He finished with nine points before the break after adding a third trey with nine-and-a-half minutes left that gave the Hilltoppers an 18-13 advantage.
That basket was actually part of a 10-2 spurt for the Toppers that pushed the lead to 22-13 eight-and-a-half minutes before the intermission. Lee’s only field goal of the half, a three from the left wing, sparked the run, which ended on a short jumper from Boris Siakam.
After trading scores, NU whittled the lead down to three with the help of a trio of layups, two from Anderson and another by Maric, as WKU was up 25-22 with four-and-a-half minutes to go. But, after pushing back out to a seven-point edge on an Evans layup and two free throws from Lee, the Hilltoppers didn’t score the rest of the half — Anderson’s last-second layup was the only points for either team the rest of the way as WKU was ahead 29-24 at the break.
Both squads turned the ball over 14 times in the opening 20 minutes, with WKU leading after outshooting the Huskers 47.6-40.9 percent.
The Cornhuskers led twice by a two-point margin in the opening minutes of the contest — when Maric sank a pair of fouls shots 49 seconds after the opening tip, and then with 16:23 remaining after two free throws from Dagunduro.
WKU is next in action when it takes on Eastern Kentucky Saturday at 6 p.m. (CST) in Richmond.