ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (WBKO) --- WKU Hilltopper Basketball went cold in the final minutes of its opener at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, falling to Bowling Green 77-75.
The Hilltoppers (4-1) led 74-67 with 5:02 to play, but scored just one point and went without a field goal the rest of the way.
Bowling Green (4-1), the preseason MAC favorite, finished the game on a 10-1 run, capped by Justin Turner’s game-winning shot in the lane with 3.8 seconds to go.
WKU will face Illinois State at 4 p.m. CT Saturday in the consolation bracket of the Paradise Jam.
“It was nip and tuck most of the game, and then in the second half, we got some separation around the five-minute mark,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “From that point on, we had a couple bad turnovers and went to the free-throw line and missed some free throws.
“… You’ve got to be able to execute with toughness the last five minutes of the game. We haven’t had a game like that, and we didn’t do a great job of finishing some plays and making some free throws.”
WKU trailed by 14 in the first half, but used a 20-1 run to power in front 32-27 with 4:36 left in the frame.
Bowling Green trimmed that advantage to 40-39 by halftime, and the second half was a back-and-forth battle throughout.
The Hilltoppers were able to build some separation when redshirt junior forward Carson Williams’ basket made it 74-67 with 5:02 left, but their only point the rest of the way was a single free throw by junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth with 41 seconds remaining.
WKU went 3-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half, offsetting a 53.6 percent shooting display from the field after the break. The Tops shot 48.1 percent from the floor overall.
Sophomore center Charles Bassey paced WKU with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks.
Hollingsworth finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Williams tallied 14 points and five rebounds. Redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage added 12 points and five boards.
Turner paced Bowling Green with 27 points, while Dylan Frye scored 19 points with five made 3-pointers.
WKU’s next opponent, Illinois State, had a 10-point lead in the closing minutes Friday against Cincinnati before falling 66-65.
“You go to these tournaments and you lose the first night, you have to find a way to get back up and win that next one and go 2-1,” Stansbury said.