BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) --- Western Kentucky halted a three-game losing streak today against Florida Atlantic with a 72-66 victory. WKU put on a tremendous 2nd half defensive display to close out their second win in C-USA play. This was the response the Hilltoppers needed following their tough three-game skid that included two 1-point losses after leading by double digits.
The storyline coming into today centered around those troubling 1-point losses due to a lack of focus in late-game scenarios. This is a story that Hilltopper fans haven’t heard in quite some time. In fact, it’s been 89 years since WKU lost two consecutive games by a 1-point margin.
A large reason why the Hilltoppers didn’t rewrite the history books tonight was because they took care of the ball in the last five minutes. Against Marshall, WKU racked up six turnovers in the last six minutes. Tonight, WKU only turned the ball over once in the last six minutes.
Smart decision-making wasn’t the only thing that got the win for WKU. Head Coach Rick Stansbury attributes the win to unselfish basketball during the last few minutes. He said, “individuals can’t win games by doing their own thing, and we’ve had too much of that. Today, I thought the team was connected, we moved the ball to where it needed to go, we got fouled, and we didn’t turn over the ball.”
Not only did WKU play smart on the offensive end, but they played a very intelligent game on the defensive end. There’s no better example of this than at the free throw line. WKU didn’t allow FAU to get to the charity stripe at all in the first half. This was vastly improved from their last game when FIU shot 17 free throws in the first half.
It wasn’t all easy going for WKU. They had to endure a first-half shooting clinic from FAU. They began the game shooting 8/12 from beyond the arc. The even crazier part is that three-pointers accounted for all but one of their baskets in the first half.
The Hilltoppers weathered the storm and came out of the half with an aggressive brand of defense. They utilized a deadly half-court press that wreaked havoc on the Owls. WKU recorded ten steals on the day, which led to them getting twice as many points off turnovers.
FAU led for most of the game, but the disciplined Hilltoppers took control of the game when Charles Bassey put WKU up by two points with ten minutes left to go. FAU kept the game close, but they wouldn’t take the lead for the rest of the game. WKU G Lamonte Bearden was confident in the close because of how familiar the Tops were with a single-possession game.
Bearden spoke calmly and confidently as he said, “We’ve been in this position before with four minutes to go. We just have to lock down and sit down defensively and guard.”
WKU will be back in Diddle on Monday night to close out their three-game homestand. They’ll want to get revenge against the (12-6, 5-0) Marshall Thundering Herd who started the Hilltopper’s three-game loss streak last week with a 70-69 victory.