Hilltoppers snatch first true road win with Arkansas upset

WKU forward Marek Nelson finishes a dunk in the Hilltoppers’ 100-86 victory over Nicholls State on Sunday

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball team rebounded from a loss to Missouri State with a 78-77 upset over Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena, the Hilltoppers’ first true road win.

Freshman center Charles Bassey led the charge with 21 points and nine rebounds. Redshirt junior Jared Savage scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and also broke out of his shooting slump with five made 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored 17 and dished out six assists.

“I’m proud of this team,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said in a press release. “I’m proud for them. I’m proud that they get a taste of what grit is and what toughness is, and that’s something I had not consistently seen. Now we’ll build on that.”

Isaiah Joe led the Razorbacks in scoring with 19 points. Daniel Gafford had 17 points and nine rebounds. Mason Jones scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half.

The Razorbacks got off to a hot start early on. Led by Joe, they took an early 13-4 lead. But Bassey and the Hilltoppers responded. Bassey won the matchup with likely first-round pick Gafford. Bassey scored 11 points and grabbed six boards in the first half compared to eight points and six rebounds for the star Razorback sophomore.

Hollingsworth and sophomore forward Josh Anderson also added in production for the Hilltoppers, who cut the Arkansas lead to three with 10 minutes left in the first half. Arkansas maintained its lead the rest of the first half. Joe had 16 points and Jalen Harris added nine points of his own.

Towards the end of the half, Anderson was ejected after committing a flagrant 2 foul. This added to WKU’s depth issues with Lamonte Bearden still ineligible as well.

Even with Anderson done for the day, WKU came out of the second half on fire. Thanks to a 24-8 run, WKU took its first lead of the game, going up by as much as eight. Savage hit multiple 3-pointers during the run and Bassey converted from the line.

“I think we just locked in, defensively and offensively,” Savage said in a press release. “We had toughness coming out of halftime. We knew how important it was in the first four minutes coming out of halftime to jump on them and get that lead back closer to us.”

Arkansas answered the WKU run with back-to-back buckets which cut the lead to four.

Both teams traded buckets into the under-12 minute media timeout. During the back-and-forth sequence, Savage and Mason Jones both knocked in 3-pointers.

With the scored tied at 70 with under five minutes left, Dalano Banton hit his second 3-pointer of the season to put WKU up three points late.

Jones and Gafford helped will Arkansas to a 77-76 lead with 45 seconds left. The following possession, the Hilltoppers executed out of a timeout. An easy layup from sophomore forward Marek Nelson put the Hilltoppers back up by a point. WKU’s defense held, and the Hilltoppers completed the upset.

“We stayed together,” Nelson said. “No one cared about who did what tonight. It was about the team, and I feel like that’s important on the road. This was our first true road win, and it’s impressive that we were able to do it in a place like this.”

The Hilltoppers improved to 5-4 on the season while the Razorbacks fell to 6-2. WKU will have a week off until its next game on Dec. 16 in Diddle Arena against Troy.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.