Western was down midway through the first half, but the players remained confident.
It was the type of confidence brewed by 33 straight home wins. By the end of the game, the Hilltoppers had captured their 34th win in a row, tying Oklahoma for the longest streak in the nation.
The final decision remained in doubt, but the Toppers climbed out of their early game funk to prevail 69-63 over Arkansas State Saturday night.
The game’s key play came as Western was up 67-63 with less than 30 seconds remaining. ASU guard Tony Brown drove to the basket and put up a shot while drawing contact from senior Nate Williams.
The ball rolled in but was ruled no good. Brown had been called for a charge, which sent the Indian’s bench into an up-roar.
“I thought he was out of control,” Felton said. “He was out of control going to the basket.”
ASU coach Dickie Nutt strongly disagreed with Felton’s perspective.
“Tony was more in control than I’ve ever seen him,” Nutt said. “To me it’s a no-call, but we can’t comment. I thought we made a great play at the end but just got called for a charge.”
Williams seemed to see both sides of the dispute.
“It could have gone both ways,” he said. “I got there, but it was close. We were kind of asleep in the first half, but we felt pretty confident. We knew it was crucial to beat them on the boards, and we did a really good job with it.”
Williams punished the Arkansas State front court, snatching nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end, on his way to 10 points.
Western out rebounded ASU 46-32, but it was the offensive boards that were crucial. The Toppers shot a mere 24-59 from the field but grabbed 18 offensive boards.
“That was one hell of a game,” Western coach Dennis Felton said. “I know the single reason we won the game was our rebounding.”
Western used their rebounding advantage to crawl back from their early deficit. After trailing 37-33 at halftime, the Toppers went on a 10-2 run to open the second half, taking a 43-39 lead.
Sophomore guard Patrick Sparks led the way with seven points and an assist during the run. He tallied 23 points, four assists and six rebounds for the game.
“We didn’t have a flow offensively in the first half,” Sparks said. “Coach told us we were going to have to bring up the defense in the second half.”
They did, holding the Indians to 26.7% shooting in the second half.
“We wouldn’t have been in the game if not for Patrick,” Felton said. “The fact that we were quicker gave us an opportunity to win.”