WKU Hilltopper Basketball made a furious comeback in the final minutes Saturday at FIU, but the rally fell just short in an 81-76 loss at Ocean Bank Convocation Center.
The Hilltoppers (14-8 overall, 7-3 Conference USA) trailed by 13 with 8:31 to play, but stormed back to get as close as two in the final minute.
WKU appeared to draw a 10-second backcourt violation with 10.2 seconds coming off the clock, but FIU was given a timeout, and Antonio Daye Jr. scored a tough basket in the lane to secure the win for the Panthers (15-8, 6-4).
“There’s no moral victories,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of a bunch of guys, when they’re literally physically and mentally drained. It’s a quick turnaround, you’re down on the road against a really good team, but we found a way to put ourselves in a position to still have a chance to win the game on the road.
“They deserve a lot of credit for that fight they showed. That fight and grit and toughness will win you a lot of games.”
WKU struggled in the early going to contain FIU’s quick guards and talented big man Osasumwen Osaghae, who had 15 points in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting.
The Panthers went on a 12-1 run in the first half to turn the tide, including nine straight points to open a 24-14 lead with 9:47 left in the frame. They led 45-36 at the break.
“They were definitely attacking us, getting downhill, getting drop-offs,” WKU redshirt junior forward Carson Williams said. “We had some holes in our defense that we need to work on and fix, and we’ll do that going forward.”
WKU didn’t get back in the fray until it started getting to the free-throw line with less than seven minutes to go.
A three-point play by junior guard Josh Anderson and a 3-pointer by freshman guard Jordan Rawls cut the Tops’ deficit to 74-71 with 3:22 remaining, but FIU answered with a bucket.
Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth’s layup with 43 seconds left made it 78-76, but the failed attempt for a backcourt violation and Daye’s layup iced the Panthers’ victory.
Osaghae finished with a game-high 22 points to lead FIU.
Redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage led WKU with 20 points and eight rebounds. Williams and Hollingsworth each had 15 points, while Williams also grabbed eight boards.
Anderson had his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Rawls chipped in 12 points and seven assists.
The Hilltoppers return home for two games this week, starting with Louisiana Tech at 8 p.m. CT Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.
Thursday’s game is a Blackout. WKU will wear its new black jerseys at home for the first time, and all fans are encouraged to wear black. The first 2,000 fans will receive a free black T-shirt.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” Savage said. “We can’t go up there feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re going to have the crowd behind us, and we need to go get two wins – nothing short of that.”