WKU loses double-overtime nailbiter to South Carolina, 87-85

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch gets blocked during the first half of Sunday’s home game against South Carolina. WKU lost in double overtime, 87-85.

Zach Greenwell

After a sluggish showing in Puerto Rico last weekend, WKU turned in a better effort Saturday night against South Carolina.

But even that wasn’t enough to spoil Darrin Horn’s return to Bowling Green.

Despite leading 66-61 with 1:26 left in regulation, WKU (3-3) allowed the Horn-led Gamecocks to send the game to overtime, eventually falling 87-85 in double overtime in front of 6,012 in Diddle Arena.

“We’re going to be able to watch on tape and see several times how we could have finished it, but that’s part of the learning process with this team,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “We had some real bright spots, but now we have to get better at finishing games and sustaining that effort.”

It took two 3-pointers by USC freshman guard Bruce Ellington to send the game to overtime, and a jumper by senior center Sam Muldrow with five seconds left in the extra period sent the game to a second.

The final frame was dominated by Ellington and sophomore guard Ramon Galloway, who combined to score 10 of USC’s final 12 points.

“You’ve got to get a special one every time, whether it’s Courtney Lee or whoever, and this one’s special,” Horn said of Ellington. “It’s not because of his athletic ability. It’s because of his heart. He made big play after big play after big play.

“Any time you’ve got a special one at the point, you know you’re going to get a shot for sure.”

WKU had one last chance with 4.4 seconds left in the game, but a pass the length of the court from senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew to senior forward Juan Pattillo was broken up.

McDonald said everything worked on the play except Pattillo catching the ball, and he thought the Toppers would have gotten an open 3-pointer on the play if it had worked.

But it wasn’t the final play that ultimately did WKU in. It was the clutch shooting of the Gamecocks (4-1) from halftime on.

WKU burst out to a 37-27 lead at the break after holding USC to 30.3 percent from the field, but the Gamecocks shot 40 percent in the second half and made 6-of-10 3-point tries. They also made 9-of-15 shots in the two overtimes.

“We didn’t defend the 3 at the end of the game like we needed to,” McDonald said. “We talked about it in the huddle, but new guys at this level don’t understand what not letting a guy take the 3 means. We have to get better at that because they made big shots, but I don’t know that we were completely taking away the 3 when we needed to.”

USC whittled away at WKU’s lead early in the second half until two free throws by Galloway gave the Gamecocks a 51-49 lead, their first since the 13:51 mark of the first half.

A 3-pointer by Galloway later gave USC a 61-60 advantage with 2:45 remaining in regulation, but junior guard Kahlil McDonald immediately answered with a 3-pointer of his own. Junior guard Ken Brown followed with another trey for WKU to put the Toppers up five with less than two minutes to play.

And that’s when Ellington and his cohorts took over.

The freshman scored 11 of his 20 points from the final 37 seconds of regulation forward, a barrage of shots that Pettigrew said flustered the Toppers.

“It was very disappointing,” he said. “It was right there for us, and the ball just didn’t bounce our way. Monday we’re going get back in and look at film and look at some of the mistakes. We have a lot of positives from this game, though. We played well in the first half and the second half, but we’ve just got to work on finishing the game.”

WKU took the lead early in the second overtime, but the Gamecocks claimed it for good on a basket by Muldrow. A 3-pointer by Ellington at the end of the shot clock to give USC an 87-82 lead with 38 seconds left then proved to be the dagger.

The heartbreaking loss overshadowed some solid individual performances for WKU, led by Pattillo’s game-high 24 points and 18 rebounds.

Pettigrew had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Kerusch had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Brown, who started with sophomore guard Jamal Crook out with a hamstring injury, played 40 minutes and added 12 points. Kahlil McDonald and freshman guard Brandon Peters each had seven.

The Toppers shot 40.5 percent for the game, holding USC to 39.8 percent from the field. WKU was outrebounded, 53-52, and made just 13-of-21 free throws.

The Toppers are shooting 54.7 percent from the free throw line this season.

“We’ve been working on free throws all week,” Kerusch said. “We’ve just got to learn how to convert them from practice into games.”

Galloway led USC with 22 points, and Ellington had eight assists to go along with his 20 points.

While Ken McDonald said he was pleased with some things in the game, he said it still stings to let an opportunity slip away when you have the chance to host an Southeastern Conference foe.

“I don’t think you know how quite bummed out I am,” he said. “It’s a tough loss, now. I wanted to win that game bad. Not personally, but you don’t have a lot of opponents come in that you can take advantage of that opportunity, so we talked about that all week.”

WKU has plenty of opportunities in the near future for a signature win, first traveling to Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Wednesday. After that, the coming weeks hold meetings with Memphis, Murray State, Southern Illinois and Louisville.

So while McDonald said he had “mixed emotions” about the loss to South Carolina, he said the Toppers can’t dwell on it for too long.

“We responded this week, and now you have to count on leadership and maturity,” he said. “Guys have to stay hungry and not just be happy with staying close. That’s part of coming together as a team and part of the coaching.”