Hilltoppers force overtime at Rhode Island, stumble in extra period

WKU forward Carson Williams (22) drives in guarded by Louisville forward Dwayne Sutton (24). The Cardinals defeated the Hilltoppers 71-54 in Bridgestone Arena on Sunday, Nov. 17 2019, in Nashville.

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team (7-4) forced an extra period for the second consecutive regular season game on Saturday afternoon, but the Hilltoppers eventually dropped a heartbreaker in overtime and fell 86-82 to Rhode Island (7-3) in the Ryan Center in Kingston, Rhode Island.

WKU hadn’t played a regular-season game in two weeks coming into the program’s first all-time meeting with URI, while the Rams hadn’t played at all since Dec. 6. The long layoff didn’t seem to phase URI, which improved to a sterling 6-0 at home this season.

“You’re always disappointed when you don’t win,” head coach Rick Stansbury, who had never faced URI in his career, said in a release. “You want the loss to hurt, but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort, the will they played with and the way we battled back on the road against a really good basketball team.”

While the Rams shot the ball 20 more times than the Hilltoppers, WKU shot 42.4% from the floor compared to just 37.2% shooting from URI throughout the contest.

The Hilltoppers went 17-of-20 from the charity stripe, as WKU reached the bonus in both the  first half and second half. WKU was also solid from deep, shooting 36% for the game.

Redshirt junior Carson Williams led the Hilltoppers with 26 points and a season-high 14 rebounds, picking up his first career double-double at WKU. The 6-foot-5-inch forward also forced the overtime period by drilling a 3-pointer as time expired in the second half. 

“I have to do that, particularly from a rebounding standpoint,” Williams said in a release. “I don’t remember how many rebounds Charles [Bassey] got a game, but it was quite a bit. There’s some vacant rebounds that need to be grabbed, so I’m going to have to step up my game in that aspect every night out.”

Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth added 18 points and six rebounds for the Hilltoppers, but the Rams also forced the Lexington native to commit seven turnovers.

Freshman Jordan Rawls came off the bench and poured in 12 points in 29 minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-1-inch guard was one of three bench players to see minutes against the Rams, and he led the WKU bench with all 12 points.

As a team, URI forced 18 Hilltopper turnovers and scored 15 points off those miscuess. The Rams also passed the ball very efficiently, stringing together 21 assists on the afternoon.

The Rams had a size advantage down low due to the missing presence of injured sophomore center Charles Bassey, which allowed the team to win the rebounding battle 51-45 over WKU and granted URI a 42-32 victory in the paint scoring race.

Sophomore Tyrese Martin was one of five URI players to reach double figures, as the guard  tallied a season-high 22 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes of action.

Junior guard Fatts Russell came into the contest averaging 21.4 points per game for URI, and he finished the game off strong by scoring all of his 15 points in the second half.

The Rams won the opening tipoff and scored on their first possession, when sophomore forward Jermaine Harris scored a layup to take a 2-0 lead in the first 13 seconds of play.

Harris scored another layup just 44 seconds later and increased the URI lead to 4-1.

The Hilltoppers took their first lead of the ball game at the 18:28 mark after Williams and redshirt senior wing Jared Savage knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to give WKU a 7-4 lead.

WKU didn’t hold its lead for long, as URI quickly regained an 11-9 lead after senior guard Jeff Dowtin converted both of his free-throw shots at the 15:42 mark.

Martin started the game off hot for his squad, scoring his seventh point to give the Rams a 16-13 lead at the 12:47 mark.

Williams was just as aggressive in the opening eight minutes of the contest, as he scored his eight point at the 11:54 mark when he made both of his shots from the free-throw line.

WKU regained the lead at the 10:24 mark when junior guard Josh Anderson went coast-to-coast and scored a layup that gave the Hilltoppers a 17-16 advantage. 

The Hilltoppers held their lead for just under a minute before the Rams scored a pair of layups to take a 20-17 lead at the 9:07 mark.

WKU tied the game at 20-20 when Williams netted his second 3-pointer of the afternoon, but URI produced an 8-0 run.

The Rams then took their largest lead with just under seven minutes remaining, 28-20.

Although the Rams produced their largest run of the half, Anderson helped WKU cut the URI lead to 31-30 by converting both of his free-throw attempts with three minutes left in the half. 

URI used a 5-0 run to take a 36-30 lead with 1:03 left, but the Hilltoppers ended half only trailing 36-35 after Williams drained a stepback 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer.

Williams shot a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the line, leading the Hilltoppers with 16 first-half points and eight rebounds.

The Owenton native scored five of WKU’s 10 field goals in the first half. The Hilltoppers shot 34.5% from the field in the first half, going just 10 for 29 from the floor. 

The Hilltoppers were able to get to the free-throw line in the first half, as WKU converted 11-of-12 shots from the charity stripe. Anderson also had a solid first-half performance by scoring eight points and shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line.

Martin remained hot for the Rams in the first half, as he went into the locker room tying his season-high with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field.

The 6-foot-6-inch guard was able to score most of his points with help from his teammates. 

Coming into the contest, the Rams were averaging 12.3 assists per game, but URI dished out 14 assists on 15 made baskets in the first half.

URI shot 37.5% from the floor and scored 18 points in the paint compared to WKU’s 12.

Just like the first half, the Rams scored on their opening possession to start the second half, when Harris scored another layup at the 19:40 mark.

Just 11 seconds later, Harris was fouled and sent to the free-throw line. He made both of his foul shots to give URI an early five-point lead to start the second half.

WKU held Russell, the Rams’ leading scorer, without a point in the first half, but Russell scored his first points of the afternoon on a layup at the 19:02 mark.

The Hilltoppers struggled defensively to begin the first half, allowing URI to control the pace and yielding an 8-0 run that forced Stansbury to call timeout down 44-35 early in the second half.

WKU scored its first points of the second half at the 16:51 mark when Savage knocked down his second 3-pointer in the left-hand corner to cut the URI lead to 46-38. 

URI scored 14 quick points to jump out to its largest lead of the game just four minutes into the second half. Down 49-38, WKU scored five straight to make the score 49-43 at the 15:02 mark.

The Rams pushed their lead back out to double digits when redshirt sophomore forward Antwan Walker scored in the paint to give the Rams a 55-45 lead at the 13:13 mark.

URI kept its lead at double digits until Hollingsworth knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game and trimmed the Rams’ lead to just 59-52 at the 10:12 mark.

The Rams increased their advantage to 61-52, but Hollingsworth again cut the URI lead to just seven points with a layup at the 8:35 mark.

Williams picked up his 10th rebound of the game after stopping the Ram offense, giving himself his first double-double as a Hilltopper.

After starting the contest shooting 0 for 4, Rawls scored his first field goal of the game on a 3-pointer to chop the URI lead to 61-57 with 7:26 remaining.

URI again would again push out its lead, this time to 70-61  when Martin drained his second 3-pointer of the game at the 4:47 mark. 

The Hilltoppers trailed 70-63 at the final media timeout, but Rawls would soon cut the Rams’ lead to just five points after he picked up an offensive rebound and put in a layup with just 3:16 remaining in the game.

Hollingsworth and Williams scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the URI advantage to just 70-69 with 1:23 remaining in the contest.

Dowtin scored with 54 seconds remaining and gave the Rams a 72-69 advantage, but Hollingsworth answered again — this time knocking down a jumper that made the score 72-71 with under 44 seconds left to play in the game.

Martin scored on the next URI possession, giving the Rams a late 74-71 lead.

The Hilltoppers had about 20 seconds to tie the game at 74-74, and Williams answered the bell by draining a 3-pointer as time expired. 

Williams’ shot gave the Hilltoppers a boost going into overtime, but URI scored on the first possession of overtime to take a 76-74 lead just 14 seconds into the overtime period. 

Graduate guard Camron Justice converted both of his free throws and tied the game once again at the 4:25 mark in overtime.

Russell pulled a 3-pointer and drained it to give the Rams a 79-76 lead at the 3:19 mark. Rawls converted an old-fashioned three-point play to even the game at 79-79 with 2:23 remaining.

The Hilltoppers struggled to score after Rawls’ basket, as WKU went over two minutes without scoring until Savage scored from deep to cut the URI lead to 84-82 with 17 seconds left. 

Russell was fouled with 14 seconds left in the contest and put the game out of reach for WKU, as he made both of his free throws and lifted the Rams to a four-point win over the Hilltoppers.

“I think we showed a lot of fight,” Rawls said in a release. “We got down double-digits twice in the second half. This team isn’t going to go away. We fought hard, but we didn’t come out with the W.”

Following the loss, WKU will get one week off before returning home to close out non-conference play against Belmont (8-4) on Dec. 28.

The Hilltoppers and the Bruins last met on Dec. 19, 2018. WKU fell 80-74 in the Curb Event Center in Nashville, but the Hilltoppers nearly overcame a 19-point second-half deficit. 

Bassey had 16 points and 10 rebounds on that night, while Anderson also scored 16 for WKU.

Tipoff in Diddle Arena is set for 6:30 p.m.

The game will be broadcast on Stadium.

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at [email protected] Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.