WKU stays composed, defeats UTEP 71-66 in OT

Sophomore forward Ben Lawson slams the ball home during the final minute of WKU’s game against Bowling Green State on Dec. 3. Lawson scored 12 points and was a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line as the Hilltoppers defeated the Falcons 62-52. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

The WKU basketball team rallied from a seven point halftime deficit to defeat the UTEP Miners 71-66 in overtime. The Hillltoppers (13-5, 6-0 C-USA) had five players post double digit points on their way to the team’s first 6-0 record in conference play since 1969-70.

To add to the historical value of the evening, former Hilltopper and current NBA guard for the Memphis Grizzlies Courtney Lee had his No. 32 jersey retired at halftime—marking only the 10th person associated with the men’s basketball program to have a jersey hung Diddle Arena.

“This is the coolest of the cool right here,” Lee said before the game. “It’s a true honor to be able to go up in E.A. Diddle. Knowing the tradition here, it speaks volumes, and just to be back here and see all of my old teammates and some of the coaching staff, it’s a special moment for me.”

Senior forward George Fant recorded his seventh-straight double double posting 13 points and 11 rebounds. Besides Fant, senior guard Trency Jackson led WKU with 14 points, and both guards sophomore Chris Harrison-Docks and senior T.J. Price scored 12. It was sophomore forward Ben Lawson who rounded out WKU’s five players in double figures.

“They continue to show so much grit, so much heart,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “It was a game that could have gone either way and we just found a way.”

Lawson scored ten points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench to play a pivotal role for the Hilltoppers after Fant picked up his fourth foul with 9:40 left to play in the second half. The Hilltoppers, who have been looking for a second big man to play well over the season, seemed to find a healthy rhythm between Lawson and junior forward Aleksej Rostov. Rostov finished with six points and five rebounds.

“I thought Ben was the difference,” Harper said. “In our zone, he basically takes up a whole side. They couldn’t shoot three’s and they couldn’t throw it into the post.”

The Miners out-scored WKU in the paint 44-30 but couldn’t pull away shooting 0-17 from beyond the arc. Out of the seven UTEP players, five scored double digit points including Vince Hunter who scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

The second largest crowd at Diddle Arena this season of 6,414 witnessed the Hilltoppers win their eight-straight game, a streak that hadn’t been achieved since the end of the 2009-10 season.

“That was wonderful. I love the crowd like that,” Jackson said. “That was the loudest I’ve ever heard Diddle…Shout out to Hilltopper nation again, they paid a gem tonight.”

WKU faces UTSA Saturday, Jan 24 at Diddle Arena looking to continue its one game lead in first place in Conference USA.