Hilltoppers drop 1st loss to Bowling Green in Paradise Jam opening round

WKU sophomore center Charles Bassey (23) reacts to a call from the referees during the game against Austin Peay on in E. A. Diddle Arena on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team (4-1) managed to score just one point during the final 5:02 of clock time against Bowling Green (4-1) on Friday night, as the Falcons dropped the Hilltoppers 77-75 in the first round of the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.

WKU was aiming for its first 5-0 start since the 2004-05 season, but BGSU handed the program its first loss of the year in the UVI Sports and Fitness Center in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We had plenty of opportunities to do things to win the game ourselves,” head coach Rick Stansbury said postgame. “We didn’t finish some things, and I’ve got to help us do better at doing those things when the game is on the line.”  

The Hilltoppers shot under 50% for the first time during the 2019-20 season, as they shot 48.1% from the field. WKU also struggled from the free-throw line, making only 17-of-28 shots from the stripe after attempting 20 foul shots in the first half alone.

WKU went 3 for 8 from the free-throw line during the second half, ultimately falling to the Falcons because of an inability to make crucial shots late in the game.

“Again, you have to be able to execute with toughness in the last five minutes of the game,” Stansbury said postgame. “We haven’t had a game like that. You know, we didn’t go a great job of finishing plays and then making some free throws.”

Sophomore center Charles Bassey led the Hilltoppers with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three assists.

Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds in 37 minutes of play.

But the Hilltoppers were outrebounded for the first time this season, trailing BGSU 41-36. The Falcons also scored 12 second-chance points, while WKU only had five.

Senior guard Justin Turner led the Falcons with 27 points, six assists and two steals. Senior guard Dylan Frye led BGSU in the second half, scoring 16 of his 19 points in the second period.

“You can’t really practice situations like that,” senior wing Jared Savage said postgame. “You just have to be in close game situations late and this was our first one. We obviously have to get better from the mistakes we made and just carry on. We can’t let this loss dictate our next game in this tournament though.”

BGSU scored the first basket of the game when Turner drove into the lane for a layup.

Savage scored WKU’s first bucket of the game, which came after the Hilltoppers missed their first three attempts from the field.

The Falcons hit back-to-back 3-pointers, taking an early 10-6 lead at the 15:35 mark.

Coming into the contest, the Falcons had allowed their opponents to shoot 93 free throws in their first four games.

That didn’t change early on against the Hilltoppers. WKU attempted six free throws in the first 5:34 of action, netting 4-of-6 of its free throws during that time frame.

After WKU produced a 6-0 run to tie the game at 12-12, BGSU made three consecutive 3-pointers and mounted an 14-0 run to take a 26-12 lead at the 9:29 mark.

After being down 27-14, the Hilltoppers regained the lead by scoring 18 unanswered points. 

WKU moved back in front 29-27 when graduate guard Camron Justice hit a 3-pointer at the 5:46 mark, and Bassey extended the WKU lead to 32-27 by knocking down his second 3-pointer of the season at the 4:37 mark.

Both teams traded brief scoring runs from there, but BGSU outscored the Hilltoppers 12-8 in the final 4:36 of clock time and trimmed the WKU lead to just 40-39 at the halftime break.

The Falcons’ furious scoring runs were guided by Turner, who led BGSU with 18 first-half points, five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes of action.

While WKU nursed a one-point lead into halftime, BGSU controlled the paint in the first half — the Falcons outrebounded the Hilltoppers 22-18 and outscored WKU 16-12 in the paint.

After starting the game shooting 3-of-10 from the field, the Hilltoppers improved to a 11-of-26 overall mark from the field in the first half.

Bassey led the Hilltoppers with 13 points and six rebounds in the first frame, with six of his 13 points coming off free throws. 

BGSU regained a 41-40 lead just 15 seconds into the second half, but the Hilltoppers would recapture their lead when Bassey made two consecutive free throws at the charity stripe.

The Falcons jumped out to a 51-48 lead early in the second half thanks to eight quick points from Frye, who checked in and drained a pair of 3-pointers.

The Hilltoppers and BGSU both shot 5-of-8 from the field in the first 5:03 of the second half.

WKU and the Falcons were tied at 55-55 until the Hilltoppers scored seven consecutive points and mounted a 62-55 lead at the 12:36 mark — WKU’s largest lead of the game at that point.

BGSU produced an 8-0 run and recaptured a 63-62 lead when Turner converted a three-point play at the 9:57 mark.

The Hilltoppers quickly regained the lead, as redshirt junior forward Carson Williams and Hollingsworth netted a pair of layups to put WKU up 66-63 at the 9:16 mark.

WKU pushed its lead to 72-65 at the 6:44 mark on a layup from Bassey, but the Falcons trimmed their deficit to 74-70 when Frye buried another 3-pointer with 3:47 left to play.

Frye scored again and cut the WKU lead to just 74-72 at the 3:01 mark. Hollingsworth increased the Hilltopper lead to 75-72 after he went 1 for 2 from the free throw line with just 41 seconds left to play.

BGSU scored on its next possession on a tip-in basket from sophomore guard Caleb Fields cut the WKU lead to 75-74 with 12 seconds remaining.

The Falcons sent junior guard Josh Anderson to the free-throw line with 8 seconds left to play, but Anderson missed the front end of a one-and-one.

The Falcons picked up the rebound, drove the ball down the court and BGSU took advantage of its extra possession — Turner netted one last jumper and moved the Falcons in front of WKU 76-75 with 3.8 seconds left to play in the ball game.

BGSU made one last foul shot with 1 second left on the clock, ultimately sealing a two-point victory and handing the Hilltoppers their first defeat of the season.

Following the loss, WKU will meet Illinois State (2-2) on Saturday.

The Redbirds ended up in the losers bracket by dropping a 66-65 decision to Cincinnati (3-1) earlier on Friday.

Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.

The game will be streamed live on FloHoops.com.

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