Hilltoppers drop C-USA Championship to North Texas in overtime thriller

WKU Hilltopper Josh Anderson (4) checks the instant replay after a foul call during their game against Old Dominion on March 5, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (20-7) fell 61-57 in overtime, in the Conference USA Championship against North Texas (17-9) on Saturday night in Frisco, Texas to conclude the postseason.  

“There’s nothing you can say to take the pain away,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “All you can take from it is, we left everything we had on that court. You can always be proud of that. But there’s nothing to take that pain away right now, absolutely nothing.”

Redshirt senior Javion Hamlet led all Mean Green shooters with 20 points en route to taking down the Hilltoppers in overtime for the C-USA title. 

Senior Josh Anderson finished the game with 14 points leading all WKU shooters in the final game of the postseason.

North Texas came out hot, going on a 13-0 run and draining three threes while WKU started 0-of-7 from the field and 0-of-4 from behind the three point line. 

The Hilltoppers didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 14:05 mark. WKU’s Anderson scored the first four points for the Hilltoppers but the Mean Green onslaught continued early on. 

Sophomore Jordan Rawls cut the Hilltopper deficit to 10 at 12:30 of the first half, draining a three-pointer to make it 17-7. He would go on to hit another triple to cut the Mean Green lead to 19-10 at the second media timeout. 

“They came out strong, they were hitting their shots. They kind of played a defense we haven’t really seen all year,” Rawls said. “They were making all of our perimeter guys shoot jump shots and we were not hitting them and they were hitting theirs.”

The Mean Green shot 60% from the field in the first half while WKU shot half of that. UNT shot 5-of-7 from behind the arc while the Hilltoppers shot 3-of-12. North Texas took a 34-23 lead into the locker room. 23 points is the lowest amount of points scored in a half by WKU this season. 

Hamlet led the Mean Green shooters with 12 points in the opening 20 minutes of play.  

The Mean Green came out of the locker room shooting 1-for-7 from the field when the first media timeout rolled around. Freshman Dayvion McKnight made a layup at 15:54 to cut the deficit to 36-29 North Texas. 

Hamlet continued to contribute for the Mean Green setting a C-USA postseason record with 27 assists at 15:16 left to play in the championship game. He finished the C-USA postseason with 28. 

Big man Bassey brought the Hilltoppers within one hitting his first triple of the game while WKU went on a 9-0 scoring run prior to the second media break of the half. WKU took the lead for the first time after Bassey hit two free throws to give the Hilltoppers a 40-39 lead. 

Up until this point, North Texas shot 2-20 for the half and 1-10 from the three. WKU was on a 15-3 run over a nine minute span. 

“That’s one thing about our team, we’re going to fight and we fought to get back and get the lead,” Bassey said.

UNT would find itself down three with 52 seconds left after a lay in by Zach Simmons. The next possession, junior Mardez Mcbride hit a three to tie the game with 22 seconds left. 

WKU turned the ball over and left North Texas with 3.7 seconds to put up a shot but missed, sending the game into overtime. 

Both teams traded blows back and forth, the game was tied at 55 with a 1:22 left in overtime. 

Both teams made free throws. North Texas took a two point lead with 14 seconds left after a floater from Hamlet. 

WKU had a chance to tie the game but missed, sending UNT to the free throw line to ice the game. UNT scored 14 points in the second half and then scored 13 points in overtime. 

North Texas won 61-57 in overtime to win their first conference championship since 2010. This is WKU’s second time losing in the C-USA Championship game. 

When asked about his future beyond WKU junior Charles Bassey said he hasn’t thought about it after the loss to the Mean Green. 

“There’s no question about that,” Stansbury said when asked if his team’s effort was good enough for a National Invitational Tournament bid. 

The NIT bracket will be announced on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. CT. 

Information on the 2021 NIT can be found here.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.