Hilltoppers earn first conference victory in overtime thriller against FAU

Redshirt senior guard Aaron Cosby drives the ball down the court after stealing it from Florida Atlantic junior Adonis Filer during the second half of WKU’s game against the Owls on Saturday. Cosby scored 17 points on the day. Jennifer King/HERALD

John Reecer

The WKU men’s basketball team (9-7) won its first Conference USA game of the season on Saturday afternoon as the Hilltoppers defeated Florida Atlantic University (2-14) 86-82 in overtime.

The victory in Diddle Arena was a welcome sight for the Hilltoppers after dropping their first two conference games of the year against Marshall and Florida International.

“I thought that was a gutty win for our kids,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “Things weren’t going very well in the first half and we weren’t good at times on the defensive end. It’s not any secret that we aren’t playing great, but we definitely have the potential to get a lot better. At some point you need these types of games, and maybe this can be the starting point.”

The first half proved to be a rough one for WKU as they found themselves down 40-35 at halftime. Once again, defense proved to be an area of concern for the Tops as FAU shot 46 percent from the field in the half.

With WKU leading 31-27 with 3:39 left, FAU ended the first half on a 13-4 run and the Owls went into halftime with the 40-35 advantage.

Junior forward Ben Lawson managed to keep the Hilltoppers in the game in the first half as he scored 11 points in the period, two away from his career high.

“We knew this was going to be a game that I could make an impact with my size,” Lawson said. “Their attention to Justin (Johnson) freed up other players and it gave me a chance to score more.”

Lawson finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks – one shy of his career high in blocks – in 33 minutes of play before fouling out.

“If Ben will keep blocking shots and being as aggressive as he was in the first half, he can be really good,” Harper said. “Ben was so good tonight and I went back with him to start the second half.”

The Hilltoppers spent the first part of the second half battling their way back into the game. As they trailed the Owls 47-40 with 17:39 left in the second half, WKU went on a 12-5 run over the next five minutes to tie the game at 52.

Junior forward Anton Waters made some keys plays during this stretch to bring WKU back into the contest. He would score four points and pull down four rebounds in just six minutes of action. 

“I thought that Anton Waters came into the game in the second half and changed the complexion of the game with his energy and his effort,” Harper said. “We just needed a spark and he set the tone for our whole second half.”

Waters made one of the biggest plays of the game at the end of regulation, deflecting a FAU pass which prevented the Owls from attempting a shot.

In overtime WKU fired on all cylinders on offense, shooting 6-6 from the field while scoring 16 points in the five-minute stretch.

Redshirt senior guard Aaron Cosby made some big plays in the overtime period, contributing to his 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal in the contest overall.

Sophomore forward Justin Johnson led all scorers in the game with 18 points as he also added eight rebounds and two assists. Johnson has led the team in scoring nine times this season and in the past three consecutive games.

“We think this is the stepping stone to a couple more wins,” Lawson said. “Hopefully we can go on the road now and get things going again.”

The Hilltoppers will now go on a four-game conference road trip, and will be back in action on Jan. 14 against Rice University at 8 p.m.