FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (WBKO) --- Saturday proved the Hilltoppers aren’t done fighting.
WKU Hilltopper Basketball stormed back from an eight-point halftime deficit at Arkansas, holding on for the 78-77 upset road victory at Bud Walton Arena.
“I’m proud of this team,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “I’m proud for them. I’m proud that they get a taste of what grit is and what toughness is, and that’s something I had not consistently seen. Now we’ll build on that.”
The victory snapped Arkansas’ 28-game nonconference home winning streak – the longest active streak in the SEC – and gave WKU a victory over a team from every Power 5 conference since Nov. 23, 2017, of last season.
It also happened to be the Hilltoppers’ first road win of the season. They were 0-3 on the road coming into the game, including an 84-78 loss at Missouri State on Wednesday.
“I think we just locked in, defensively and offensively,” redshirt junior guard/forward Jared Savage said. “We had toughness coming out of halftime. We knew how important it was in the first four minutes coming out of halftime to jump on them and get that lead back closer to us.”
The Hilltoppers (5-4) fell into an early hole, but answered with an 11-2 run to tie the game at 22-22 on a basket by freshman center Charles Bassey with 7:36 left in the frame.
But Arkansas (6-2) went on its own 11-4 burst to rebuild its lead to 33-26 with 3:55 remaining in the half. The Razorbacks took a 41-33 advantage into the break.
WKU raced out of halftime, scoring the first six points and eventually 24 of the first 32. Freshman forward Tolu Smith’s putback dunk with 12:45 left capped a 9-0 run and gave WKU a 57-49 lead.
The Hilltoppers still led with under a minute to go, but a putback by Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford put the Razorbacks up 77-76 with 45 seconds left.
WKU didn’t blink, as Bassey passed out of a double team to a wide-open Marek Nelson for a layup on the next possession. The sophomore forward’s bucket proved to be the game winner, and the Hilltoppers stood tall on defense on the other end – including Bassey’s fifth block – to pull out the victory.
“We stayed together,” Nelson said. “No one cared about who did what tonight. It was about the team, and I feel like that’s important on the road. This was our first true road win, and it’s impressive that we were able to do it in a place like this.”
Bassey – going against a fellow NBA prospect in Gafford – led WKU with 21 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks.
Savage had 20 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, and sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth added 17 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Freshman guard Dalano Banton had five points, a career-high seven assists, three rebounds and two blocks in his second start.
The Hilltoppers shot 50 percent for the game, outrebounded Arkansas 37-34 and tallied a season-high 18 assists against 14 turnovers.
Isaiah Joe led Arkansas with 19 points.
The Hilltoppers will take the upcoming week off for finals before hosting Troy at 2 p.m. CT Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will air on ESPN3.
“In the game of basketball, you’re going to win some games and you’re going to lose some games,” Bassey said. “This was an important game, and now we’ll go on to the next game and try to win every time.”
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