ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (WBKO) --- WKU Hilltopper Basketball showed its resiliency Saturday, bouncing back from an opening-round loss in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam with an 83-69 victory over Illinois State in the consolation bracket.
The Hilltoppers (5-1) shot 54 percent overall, made 11 of 19 3-pointers and sank 18 of 21 free throws on their way to their best start through six games since 2007-08.
WKU trailed 37-36 at halftime, but shot 68 percent from the field after the break and made 14 of 15 shots from the stripe.
The Tops will face Fordham (4-1) at 2:15 p.m. CT Monday in the fourth-place game of the tournament.
“That one last night stung even more,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “The players are hurt from it, too. There were some things that happened in that game that weren’t us. … The thing we learned from last night was that we haven’t been in a game where we have to grind in the halfcourt. We weren’t as efficient as we needed to be. Tonight, we were much more efficient.”
A night after struggling to score late in a grind-it-out 77-75 loss to Bowling Green, the Hilltoppers lit it up on offense Saturday and shot over 50 percent for the fifth time in six games.
Graduate senior guard Camron Justice went 1-for-12 overall in the BGSU loss, but set the tone Saturday with 19 points and four assists, knocking down 4 of 6 3-pointers.
“I’ve been through the ringer a while,” Justice said. “This being my fifth year, I’ve seen the ups and downs that this game can bring. For me, I just play the next game like I had a great game the last game.”
Redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage scored 16 points – hitting 1,000 career points in the process – while freshman guard Jordan Rawls added 14 points (4-6 3PT) and three steals off the bench.
Redshirt junior forward Carson Williams chipped in 11 points and five rebounds.
Illinois State (2-3) opened the game with a 9-1 run and held control most of the first half, but WKU scored the final six points of the frame to climb back within 37-36.
The Hilltoppers opened the second half with a 12-2 run, then used a 16-5 burst midway through the frame to push the advantage to 70-55 on a 3-pointer by Rawls.
“I think we came out strong,” Rawls said. “The loss last night hurt us, and we didn’t want to lose two in a row, so we came out strong and got the W.”
Ricky Torres had 15 points to pace five Illinois State players in double figures.