WKU survives overtime battle for ULM to earn first Sun Belt win

Cole Claybourn

WKU and Head Coach Ken McDonald can take a sigh of relief.

After leading by as many as 15 midway through the second half and allowing Louisiana-Monroe to tie the scored with 2.5 seconds left, the Toppers (5-9, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference) escaped with a 76-71 victory in their first Sun Belt Conference game of the season.

“I wish there was a little more comfort in this one,” McDonald told WKU’s Big Red Radio after the game. “But a learning experience for the crew — understanding just how hard it is anywhere you’re at.”

Thanks to 12 first half points from freshman forward George Fant and the team’s 14-of-14 shooting from the free throw line, WKU went into halftime with a 35-29 lead despite trailing by as many as 10.

But the second half was a half of runs for both teams.

WKU scored nine of the first 12 points in the half and eventually led 51-36 with 13:11 left to play.

“I think we could have rolled them at that point,” McDonald said. “If you get a couple stops and maybe make them work on the defensive end a couple possessions.”

Instead, WKU went on a scoring drought that spanned more than four minutes and allowed ULM to go on a 14-0 run, highlighted by three straight missed free throws by freshman guard T.J Price, that made it a 53-52 game in favor of WKU.

“They made a couple (defensive stops) and got some confidence and all of a sudden it got back in their favor in terms of their confidence level,” McDonald said of ULM.

Up 60-58 with 3:09 left to play, WKU scored four straight to take a six-point game with 40 seconds left.

But freshman Derrick Gordon committed a foul which resulted in a three-point play with less than 10 seconds left. 

Up 64-61, Gordon was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one. ULM’s Hugh Mingo then hit the game-tying three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to send the game into overtime

In the overtime period — WKU’s first of the season — freshman guard Kevin Kaspar was fouled shooting a three-pointer and hit all three free throws to give WKU a 71-67 lead.

WKU never relinquished the lead.

“It shouldn’t be like this,” Kaspar said of having to win in overtime. “We had a stretch where we relapsed, kind of. It went in to overtime. We played good. We played better than the other team in the overtime, so we won the game.”

The Toppers shot 41.5 percent from the field compared to ULM’s 46.4 percent, but it was WKU’s free throws that ultimately kept the Toppers from avoiding another close loss in Monroe.

WKU finished 28-of-39 from the free throw line and made eight in the overtime period. 

Fant finished with 17 points and nine rebounds while Gordon added 13 points and seven rebounds.

WKU finished with 14 assists — a season-best.

ULM was led in scoring by Mingo with 23. Center Steven McClellan added 15 points and eight rebounds.

Fant said he and the rest of the team new just how important it was for WKU to win its first conference game, especially on the road.

“It was a must-have win,” he said. “We came out and executed and did what we had to do. Especially us being so young, that’s a plus.”