ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (WBKO) --- WKU Hilltopper Basketball survived a late scare Monday afternoon, wrapping up play in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam with a 69-64 victory over Fordham in the fourth-place game.
The Hilltoppers (6-1) led by 15 at halftime, but had their lead trimmed to three in the final minute.
WKU got timely offensive rebounds and made 11 of 12 free throws after the break to finish the job and secure its best start through seven games since 2006-07.
“Sometimes you just have to find ways to hang on,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “It’s never easy in a three-game tournament, that last game. And give Fordham some credit. They played well and had a young man come off the bench and score 14 for them. It’s very obvious in the second half that the one thing that we weren’t as good as we need to be, we had too many self-inflicted turnovers.”
The Hilltoppers rode the tandem of sophomore center Charles Bassey and graduate senior guard Camron Justice to victory.
Bassey had 24 points and 12 rebounds, making 10 of 10 free throws. Justice picked up where he left off in Sunday’s win over Illinois State, scorching the nets with 6-of-8 3-point shooting for 23 points.
The Hilltoppers made 17 of 20 free throws, while Fordham (4-2) attempted just seven shots from the stripe.
“I think we found a toughness within ourselves,” Justice said. “We’ve really had three hard games down here, and I think it’s brought us closer together and maybe a little more chemistry between us on and off the court.”
The Rams led 7-5 early, but WKU went on a 14-0 run to open a 19-7 advantage at the 10:13 mark on a 3-pointer by Justice, who made all four of his long-range attempts before halftime.
The Hilltoppers scored 10 of the last 11 points of the frame to take a 37-22 lead into halftime.
Fordham came charging back, however, and WKU aided the Rams’ efforts with 12 turnovers in the second half after just five in the first.
A 3-pointer by Fordham’s Erten Gazi cut WKU’s lead to 67-64 with 1:05 left, but Bassey came up with a big offensive rebound for the Tops that allowed Justice to make two free throws to ice the win.
“Like Coach said, we had the lead at halftime, and we just needed to go hard every time,” Bassey said. “That’s what I did and that’s what my teammates did, and we got the win.”
WKU outrebounded Fordham 40-25, including seven boards from redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage to go with his nine points.
Antwon Portley paced Fordham with 17 points and seven assists.
The Hilltoppers will stay in neutral-site action as the take on No. 2 Louisville on Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The game will stream online via CBS Sports Network on Facebook.
“We came in this tournament playing pretty loose and fast,” Stansbury said. “We hadn’t been challenged in the halfcourt yet. Here, the execution part of the last five minutes was really important. … Those are the areas we need to get better in.”