Trojans escape Diddle with overtime win, WKU drops second-straight

WKU sophomore center Aleksej Rostov shoots during the first half of WKU’s game against the University of Arkansas Little Rock Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU held a four-point lead with 29 seconds remaining in regulation but couldn’t put away a feisty Arkansas Little-Rock team, who answered every punch the Toppers threw with big, tough shots. 

A jumper from the baseline from UALR’s Josh Hagins tied things up at 71 with eight seconds remaining. In overtime, the Trojans pulled away in the final seconds, sneaking out of Diddle Arena with a 87-83 victory.

WKU played without its leading scorer and junior guard T.J. Price, who was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules. Junior guard Kevin Kaspar said the team didn’t find out about Price’s absence until right before the game and said they rallied together to fight their hardest as a team, but couldn’t execute enough to get the win down the stretch.

“It stings, kind of,” WKU junior guard Kevin Kaspar said. “When you play hard, you want to win at the end of the game. I think we played hard enough, but we just couldn’t close it.”

UALR’s Will Neighbour led all scorers with 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting, with six of those points coming in the final two minutes of overtime.

WKU sophomore center Aleksej Rostov led the Toppers with a season-high 20 points; it was a breakout game for him.

“I knew the moment was going to come,” he said. “I just kept working hard.”

And that hard work paid off. The Latvian big man scored in a variety of ways: in the post, from the stripe and, surprisingly, from behind the arc, netting four of his six attempts from long range, including two, back-to-back attempts to start overtime.

“I thought he looked like the old Alex,” WKU coach Ray Harper said. “Played with a lot of energy, he was active.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get 20 (points) from him every night, but I’ve said all along we should get double-figures.”

UALR jumped out to a 10-2 lead early with its leading scorer, Neighbour, pouring in eight of those points. Kaspar nailed a long ball to bring the Toppers within one point, 22-21, midway through the first half.

Moments later, Kaspar hit a pull up jumper close to, once again, close the gap to one. Freshman guard Payton Hulsey finished a layup inside to give the Toppers the lead, their first of the game, with just over six minutes left in the first half. UALR was called for a walk on its next possession and the Topper crowd rose to its feet in celebration.

Eventually, UALR’s lead reached seven-points, but the Toppers closed the gap late, cutting the lead to three points after Jackson finished an and-1 and netted the free throw. Harrison-Docks drained a pull up jumper in transition, closing the gap to just one point, but UALR sunk a shot from the stripe with seconds remaining to take a 33-31 lead into halftime.

With 15:33 left to play, Fant picked up his fourth foul when a tricky collision was called a blocking foul in UALR’s favor. He went to the bench, leaving the Toppers, who were leading by two, without their two leading scorers on the season.

A few possessions later, UALR’s Kemy Osse drained a three way behind the line, tying things up at 52 with just over 10 minutes to play. The Toppers responded with two straight long-range shots from Kaspar and Jackson respectively. UALR answered with a bucket at the rim and Adeoye netted a mid-range jumper on WKU’s next possession, keeping the lead at six points. A three ball from Harris gave WKU an eight-point lead with just over five minutes remaining.

Fant returned to the game with 3:55 left to play and the Toppers up by four points. Osse sunk a three-pointer to cut the Toppers lead to one, but Kaspar answered with a long-range shot of his own off a nifty scoop pass from Harrison-Docks.

With under 40 seconds remaining, Harper called up an isolation for Harrison-Docks, who was matched up with UALR big man James White, an advantage for the Topper guard. Harrison-Docks blew past White and drew a foul, splitting the pair of free throws and giving WKU a four-point lead.

A long, pull up three-pointer from Josh Hagins cut the Toppers lead, once again, to one point, this time with 23.8 seconds remaining. Kaspar turned the ball over out of bounds under UALR’s basket, but the Trojans failed to capitalize and the ball ended up in Harris’ hands. He was fouled hard and split a pair of free throws. Hagins answered with a floater from the baseline to tie the game up at 71 with 8.1 seconds remaining.

Harrison-Docks game-winning shot attempt was blocked out of bounds with a second remaining and Harris’ long range attempt from the out of bounds play was also blocked, effectively sending the game to overtime.

Rostov netted two straight three-pointers from the top of the key to start overtime, giving WKU a six-point lead, but UALR answered with two straight buckets. Neighbour scored on the Trojans’ next possession to tie things up at 77 with 1:36 left to play. Fant collected an offensive rebound and was fouled on his put-back attempt and calmly sunk both free throws.

But Hagins, again, answered, this time using a couple of crossover moves to create space before netting an isolation three-pointer over the outstretched hands of Jackson, a crafty and pesky defender. Harrison-Docks sunk a floater from the baseline, retaking the lead, but Neighbour answered with a bucket at the rim.

On WKU’s ensuing possession, Harrison-Docks’ shot banged off the back rim and Fant’s putback attempt was blocked. Neighbour collected the rebound and was fouled before sinking both of his shots at the stripe, giving UALR a three-point lead with seven seconds to play. Hagins fouled Harrison-Docks with just under four ticks remaining and the freshman guard hit both attempts at the line, bringing WKU within one.

Hagins was fouled and sent to the line with three seconds left, where he hit both shots at the stripe. A long pass from the baseline was intercepted by UALR’s Osse, effectively ending any chance for a game tying shot.

Harper said that he hopes to have Price, the team’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, back Saturday when WKU (10-7, 2-2 Sun Belt Conference) hosts Arkansas State in the 31st annual BB&T Classic.

He called the Red Wolves “very talented” and said they “shoot the ball from three as well as anyone in the country.”