Hilltoppers blow 16-point lead to FIU, suffer third straight loss

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth hits the deck during WKU’s loss to Florida International Thursday in Diddle Arena. Hollingsworth had 14 points in the loss. 

Jeremy Chisenhall

WKU blew a double-digit lead for the third straight game in a 77-76 loss to Florida International Thursday.

The Hilltoppers led by as many as 16 points, but faltered late and allowed several scoring runs to give up the lead and ultimately lose in the final seconds. The Panthers were led by junior forward Osasumwen Osaghae, who recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. WKU was led by redshirt junior guard Jared Savage, who had 19 points and nine rebounds.

“For the past couple of games we’ve been getting off to a good start, but we’ve just got to emphasize on finishing the game,” sophomore forward Josh Anderson said. “We keep letting guys come back and make runs on us. We’ve just got to box out, do the small things, play defense, focus and just finish out a game for 40 minutes.”

WKU started slow, as FIU got out on an 8-0 run through the first three minutes of the game. Bassey finally got WKU going with a 3-pointer, and WKU worked itself back into the game with a 6-0 run that was aided by a Bassey fastbreak dunk. That run gave WKU its first lead at 15-13, but FIU continued to battle as the teams traded leads.

WKU went through a scoring drought of over three minutes midway through the first half, but managed to stay within four points, as FIU scored just three points in that time.

After ending the scoring drought, the Hilltoppers went on an 8-0 run that gave them their largest lead of the game at the time (four points). Savage extended that lead a couple possessions later with a 3-pointer followed by an alley-oop dunk, which gave him 16 points with 3:40 left in the first half. Savage also helped the Hilltoppers make seven straight attempts from the field.

Thanks to a Taveion Hollingsworth 3-pointer at the one-minute mark of the half, the Hilltoppers held a 43-34 lead going into the break.

WKU was led by Savage in the first half, who had 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and he was 3 for 5 from 3-point range. He also had six rebounds and two assists.

Despite a strong push early, WKU couldn’t keep FIU from sticking around and ultimately taking the lead in the second half. It was Anderson who nearly pushed WKU across the finish line, as he had 14 points in just the second half.

WKU pushed its lead to 14 points early in the second half thanks to an FIU scoring drought that lasted over two minutes. The Panthers also turned the ball over five times in that period. A 9-0 run by FIU put the Panthers right back in it, as they cut WKU’s lead to three points with 6:48 left to play.

“Winning and losing is a fine line,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “You’ve got to understand, when you get up in the second half, you’ve got to put a foot on somebody’s throat.”

WKU couldn’t snap the run until Bassey found some space in the lane and threw down a two-hand dunk to push WKU’s lead back to five. WKU proceeded to make three straight attempts from the field, but FIU kept the lead within five. The Panthers took the lead back with a dunk from Osaghae, putting them up one point with 1:34 left.

The two teams then traded leads, as redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden sank a pair of free throws, and FIU senior guard Brian Beard answered with two free throws on the other end. With FIU up one, the game came down to the final seconds. Anderson dropped in a putback layup to give WKU a 76-75 lead, but Beard answered again with a layup on the other end, giving FIU a 77-76 lead with nine seconds left.

Stansbury elected to not call a timeout, and WKU ran the floor looking for a quick bucket. A buzzer-beating 3-point attempt by Hollingsworth missed, giving FIU the win.

“I chose not to call that, I know we had one,” Stansbury said. “That play gets magnified, it never should have got to that.”

The Hilltoppers will take on Florida Atlantic Saturday at 2 p.m. in Diddle Arena. It’s the second of three games in five days for WKU.

“It hurts, but we’re just onto the next one now,” Savage said. “We can’t do nothing about that now. We wish we could but we can’t, so it’s on to Saturday.”

Digital managing editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.