Hilltopper season ends with 53-52 loss to UAB

WKU’s senior forward George Fant (44) walks off the court after his final game as a Hilltopper, a 52-53 loss against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the second round of the Conference USA tournament Thursday, March 12, 2015, at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Fant led the Toppers with 18 points but they fell short in the final minute. Mike Clark/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

The WKU basketball team has been there before. Down one point with the final possession of the game, the Hilltoppers saw this same situation in last year’s conference tournament, a game WKU lost at the buzzer to end its 2013-2014 season.

This time, with 14 seconds left and down by one, WKU’s season once again hinged on one final play. Sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks attempted a three from the corner as time expired in front of a hostile crowd in Birmingham, but it wasn’t meant to be. WKU was knocked out in the second round by the UAB Blazers after a defensive slugfest that involved 13 lead changes and a final two minutes that will go down in WKU history.

“Thought our kids played with a lot of heart and should be proud,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “I’m proud of how they played and how they competed. Two games, we give up 45 yesterday and 53 today so you do that you feel like you have a chance, unfortunately today we didn’t.”

“We were looking for a slip screen with George initially, if that wasn’t open we wanted Trency  to just rip it right off his tail for a drive and that’s what he did and Trency made a great play. I thought Nigel ended up being the guy that was wide open and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

WKU led by four with 1:15 left but slowly began to lose its grasp. Nick Norton pulled UAB to within one with a three pointer with :52 seconds left. After a UAB timeout and Harrison-Docks turnover, Robert Brown drained the game-winning jumper with :19 seconds remaining to give the Blazers their first lead since 6:18 was left in the second half.

The loss is the fourth postseason loss for WKU under Harper, those losses are by an average of six points. The last two conference tournament losses are by a combined two points.

The game marks the final time seniors George Fant, T.J. Price and Trency Jackson will ever play for the Hilltoppers. Fant dominated for WKU with a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds while Price finished with six points and a career-high nine assists. Jackson finishes his college basketball career with eight points after two made three pointers, a team-high for WKU Thursday.

“I told them in the locker room, they have meant a lot to this program, they have meant a lot to me,” Harper said of the senior trio. “They are going to be great, I know when they leave the university they are all going to have a diploma in their hands in May, people who have had the opportunity to watch them, I know about their character, they are tough kids. It’s always sad when you walk into that locker room that last day, its the last game for your seniors but at the same time these guys left it all out there tonight, which I knew they would. Proud of what they have meant to WKU basketball.”

WKU ends its season with a 20-12 record, the third season in a row that WKU has reached 20 wins. The loss also marks the first time in ten years that WKU will fail to advance to the conference tournament semi-finals. 

An emotional Fant talked to the media after the game. The four year WKU starter and former Warren Central high school star was asked how he felt after the last second loss. His words are ones WKU fans will have to cherish until next season comes and another player comes to WKU that embodies what it means to be a Hilltopper.

“I’m a little emotional about our last game, this going down, going down with a loss,” Fant said. “I can flashback coming in as a freshman playing in the tournament, not really happy that we didn’t make it again this year but I’m happy to play with the guys I’ve played with over these last four years and coach Harper and building the relationships I’ve had with these guys.”