Hilltoppers drop tough conference game at UTEP

WKU junior guard Fredrick Edmond (25) drives to the hoop against UAB guard Hakeem Baxter during the game Thursday. Western Kentucky University Men’s Basketball team takes on the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers at Diddle Arena on January 28, 2016, in Bowling Green, Ky. WKU leads UAB at the half, 40 – 35. Matt Lunsford/HERALD

John Reecer

For the first 31 minutes in Saturday night’s matchup between WKU (12-12) and the University of Texas at El Paso (13-11), the Hilltoppers controlled the game. However the Miners walked away with a 93-89 victory in overtime as WKU saw its conference record fall to 4-7 on the season.

The Hilltoppers’ lead over UTEP grew to 19 points as they lead 70-51 with 8:47 left in the contest. The Miners would then finish regulation on a 26-7 scoring run forcing overtime. They outscored WKU 16-12 in the extra period.

“We had every opportunity to win, and we just find ways to not finish,” Head Coach Ray Harper said in a post-game game radio interview.. “We kept a good gap for 31 minutes, and then in the last eight minutes or so our defense got too extended.”

Critical turnovers and too many missed free throws were the downfall for the Hilltoppers in the game as UTEP scored 24 points off of 20 WKU miscues. WKU also shot just 59.7 percent from the free-throw line as they missed 15 shots from the charity stripe.

 “In that second half, made free throws would’ve helped,” Harper said. “We had 20 turnovers and I know it wasn’t anything that the defense did to cause the turnovers. It has everything to do with us. We just made some really bad decisions and we have to be better.”

Despite the loss, junior guard Fredrick Edmond played what might have been his best overall game on the season as he recorded 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the contest. 

“I thought he [Edmond] played well,” Harper said. “We just got to work with him this week because he has got to hit some free-throws. He was the guy they were trying to foul in the second halfl and I think he was 4-12 from the line tonight.”

Senior forward Aleksej Rostov also enjoyed a solid game as he notched season highs in four different statistical categories. He scored 13 points while grabbing eight rebounds. He also added six assists in 29 minutes.

“He looked like his old self tonight,” Harper said. “He was active and aggressive and we went with him a lot. I thought he was our best post player tonight.”

The Hilltoppers collapse was seen in front of a sell-out crowd in EL Paso, Texas as the Miners honored the 50th anniversary of their 1966 National Championship team, the first team to start five African Americans in a college basketball game.  

“I guess I got some energy from the environment that we had with the big crowd,” Rostov said. “They just hit every shot that they needed to. They made big plays and you got to give them credit.”

WKU will be back in action next Saturday, Feb. 13, against Marshall at 7 p.m. in Diddle Arena after a week-long break.

“They [Marshall] have a lot of offensive threats,” Rostov said. “All five guys can shoot the ball which means that they are extremely difficult to guard.