BOCA RATON, Fla. — Trailing by 15 with 8:19 to go Thursday night at Florida Atlantic, WKU brought the game within five points in the final minute but could not complete the rally and lost 84-78 in Boca Raton. Florida Atlantic shot 59.1 percent as a team in the game (26-for-44), and made 21 of 25 second-half free throws (.840). The loss drops WKU to 13-13 overall and 7-8 in conference play, and Florida Atlantic improves to 12-15 and 7-9 with the victory.
George Fant scored a career high 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to lead WKU, and T.J. Price added 17 points. Kevin Kaspar scored 12 points, and Aleksejs Rostov contributed 11 on 5-of-5 shooting and six rebounds in just 11 minutes off the bench. O'Karo Akamune swiped a career high five steals in 28 minutes on the defensive end.
Florida Atlantic was led by 31 points by Greg Gantt, who entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in scoring, and Stefan Moody added 26 points and five assists.
WKU opened up a 23-18 lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the first half after a Fant slam dunk, but the Owls went on an 18-5 run after that to lead 36-28 with 4:38 to play in the first. The Hilltoppers got within four at 36-32 on baskets by Fant and Teeng Akol, but the Owls scored five quick points in the final minute and took a 41-34 lead into the halftime locker room.
WKU was led by Fant's 11 points and five rebounds in the first half, and Price added 10 points. Akamune had four steals in 18 minutes, and WKU shot 43.8 percent (14-for-32) in the first half.
The Owls shot 65.4 percent (17-for-26) as a team in the opening 20 minutes and went five-for-seven from three-point range. Gantt led all scorers with 17 tallies in the first half, and there were six ties and five lead changes in the first half.
Three separate second-half bursts by the Hilltoppers made the game interesting after Florida Atlantic opened up a 15-point lead with just over eight minutes to go. Fant converted a three-point play to make it 73-63, WKU followed with a steal at halfcourt before Fant made two more free throws to quickly bring WKU to within eight at 73-65.
Jamal Crook hit two free throws of his own and WKU got another pressure steal before Kaspar knocked down a couple of free throws, and the Hilltoppers found themselves down by just seven at 76-69 a couple of minutes later.
Kaspar once again came up big with a three-pointer in front of the WKU bench to bring the Hilltoppers within five at 81-76, but they would get no closer and the Owls earned the conference victory.
WKU finished the game shooting 39.7 percent as a team (27-for-68), and WKU made five of 23 three-point tries (.217). The Owls made just nine field goals in the second 20 minutes but tallied 43 second-half points behind the strength of 21 free throws and four three-pointers.
The Owls won the battle on the boards by one, 33-32, and Florida Atlantic had 16 assists on 26 made baskets. WKU committed just 10 turnovers as a team.
The Hilltoppers wrap up the road swing in Florida with a 6:30 PM (CT) game at FIU on Saturday. WKU returns to E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday, February 21 to face ULM.