BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) --- There was no quit in WKU Hilltopper Basketball on Thursday night.
The Hilltoppers (12-10, 5-4 Conference USA) forced overtime in improbable fashion against UTSA, survived the highest-scoring effort from an opposing player ever at E.A. Diddle Arena, then stormed to victory in overtime for a 96-88 home win.
The Roadrunners (12-10, 6-3) entered the game tied for the league lead. WKU is now just one game out of first place in the loss column after winning four of its last five games.
“We hung around enough to keep it close enough and found different ways to get it into overtime,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Great team effort. Found different ways from different people to get into overtime.”
WKU had five players in double figures, led by 22 points apiece from freshman center Charles Bassey and redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden.
Bassey had a career-high 18 rebounds for his fourth double-double in his last five games. He was 7 of 8 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Bearden played 39 minutes in his return to the starting lineup and tallied seven assists against just one turnover.
He had two steals – one of them the biggest play of the game. With UTSA up 78-77 with eight seconds left, Bearden swatted away and grabbed the inbounds pass and was fouled.
He sank 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game, and WKU made 4 of 6 shots and 7 of 8 free throws in overtime to pull away.
It took all of that to overcome a career-high 46 points from UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson, who made 16 of 31 shots and 8 of 14 3-pointers. That was the most points ever by an opposing player in Diddle Arena, and the Roadrunners also got 26 points from Keaton Wallace.
“It was great,” Bassey said. “You have to understand, we were down one with 15 seconds to go and we just fought back, that’s what we did. We went to overtime and played hard and got a win.”
Three of WKU’s made shots in overtime were 3-pointers by redshirt junior guard/forward Jared Savage. He went 1 of 6 from long range in regulation but 3 of 4 in OT, including two in the first two minutes to give the Hilltoppers the advantage.
After UTSA banked in its 16th 3-pointer of the game to trim its deficit to 88-85, Savage banked in his final 3 to pad the cushion. He finished with 12 points and three assists.
“Overtime was a new game to me,” Savage said. “I hit that one and I kind of got hot.”
Sophomore guard Josh Anderson scored 19 points with six rebounds in 37 minutes in his first game in a mask after suffering a broken nose last week.
Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth added 11 points.
UTSA made six of its first eight 3-pointers in the first half and led by as much as eight with 7:35 left in the frame. WKU scored eight of the final 10 before the break to lead 41-39 at halftime.
The lead changed hands 12 times in the game, with WKU pulling in front 68-67 with 5:32 left on a layup by freshman forward Tolu Smith.
UTSA immediately answered with a 3-pointer, and another 3 by Giovanni De Nicolao pushed the Roadrunners’ lead to 78-74 with 1:30 to play.
After a free throw by Bassey, Hollingsworth came up huge with 15 seconds left on a putback dunk to cut it to one. Bearden then stripped the ensuing inbounds play and sent the game to overtime with one free throw.
The Hilltoppers never trailed in overtime after Savage’s first 3 of the period and scored on 8 of 10 possessions.
WKU recorded just six turnovers in 45 minutes and outrebounded UTSA 48-33. Its 96 points were a season high, and the Tops improved to 2-0 in overtime games under Stansbury.
“That was our goal when we came out, we said we were trying to get under 12 turnovers,” Bearden said. “I think we got six for tonight, so we reached our goal.”
The Hilltoppers stay at home to host UTEP at 6 p.m. CT Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will stream online on ESPN+.