HATTIESBURG, Miss. — WKU erased a 14-point deficit to force overtime, but fell 67-64 in overtime to Southern Miss in front of 7,097 at the Reed Green Coliseum in the season opener for both squads.
Southern Miss's Jerrold Brooks hit four free throws in the final 8.3 seconds of overtime to give the Golden Eagles the win as O'Karo Akamune's three-point attempt at the buzzer missed the mark. WKU held the Golden Eagles without a field goal in the final 4:57 of regulation and the entire overtime period but Southern Miss was 9-of-11 from the free throw line in the extra period.
Senior Jamal Crook led the Hilltoppers with a game-high 17 points while sophomore Kevin Kaspar hit a career-high four three-point field goals and finished with 13 points. George Fant added ten points.
"We had every opportunity," said head coach Ray Harper. "I thought in the first half we did a poor job of taking care of the basketball... We just settled. As the game went on, we settled down a little bit, we attacked the gaps and got the ball inside. We had every opportunity... We competed. They got us down and we kept coming. They won't quit. We need to use it as a learning experience... In the second half, we attacked them in some areas and got some really good looks but we had our opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them."
The Golden Eagles jumped ahead 10-0 early as Dwayne Davis scored seven of Southern Miss's first ten points. The Hilltoppers missed their first eight shots and had five turnovers before Fant finally found the bottom of the net with 13:51 remaining in the opening half. The Hilltoppers would trail by 14 points at 24-10 with 6:47 left before WKU scored eight straight to cut the lead to six at 24-18 after a Jamal Crook jumper.
The Hilltoppers shot just 30.4 percent from the field in the opening stanza, missing all seven of their three-point attempts. WKU trailed by just eight points at halftime at 30-22 despite committing 14 turnovers.
WKU cut the lead to three at 33-30 early in the second half when Jamal Crook capped an 8-1 run with a basket. The Golden Eagles answered by scoring eight straight before a Kaspar three-pointer with 12:20 left ended WKU's drought of 11 straight misses from behind the arc to start the game, cutting the lead to 41-33.
After a Michael Craig dunk on a fast break with 10:08 left to extend the lead to ten at 45-35 for Southern Miss, the Hilltoppers got consecutive three-pointers by Crook and Dickerson and a basket from Akamune to cut the lead to two at 45-43 just one minute later. Southern Miss's Rashard McGill responded with six straight points of his own to extend the lead back out to 51-43 at the under eight media timeout.
After Southern Miss opened up a nine point lead at 55-46 on a Davis basket, their final made field goal of the game, the Hilltoppers reeled off ten straight points to take their first lead of the game at 56-55 after a Kaspar three, his third of the game, with three minutes remaining. It would be the final basket of regulation for either team as Southern Miss hit 3-of-4 free throws before Fant nailed two with 1:22 remaining to tie the game at 58. WKU had a chance in the final ten seconds to win the ballgame, but Crook was called for an offensive foul with 6.5 second left as he drove the lane.
WKU hit just 16-of-30 from the free throw line in the game and shot just 32.8 percent from the field for the game (21-of-64). Despite committing 25 turnovers, the Golden Eagles were able to compile just 15 points off the WKU miscues while WKU put in 20 points off 26 turnovers.
WKU opens its home schedule for the 2012-13 season Tuesday night at 7:00 against Austin Peay. It is Veterans Night at E.A. Diddle Arena, and veterans can show a military ID and receive a complimentary ticket to the game. All family and friends can purchase reduced price reserved tickets for $7.00. In addition, the first 2,500 fans Tuesday night will receive a free Hilltopper men's basketball magnet. Tickets for the 2012-13 WKU basketball season are on sale now and can be purchased online at WKUSports.com or by calling the WKU Ticket Office at 1-800-5-BIG RED or 745-5222 locally.