The WKU men’s basketball team (6-3) suffered its second straight loss in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday night, as the Hilltoppers relinquished a 10-point second-half lead and dropped a 76-74 road tilt to Wright State (7-2) in the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio.
Although WKU had three players score 15 or more points, the Hilltoppers struggled to get to the free-throw line, as the team attempted seven free throws in a tight loss to the Raiders.
The Hilltoppers shot well in defeat — posting a 49.2% mark from the field and going 6-of-15 on attempts from behind the arc — but 20 free-throw attempts by WSU made it hard for WKU to keep up during several extended scoring droughts late in the game.
“When you go on the road, there’s a small margin for error,” head coach Rick Stansbury said in a release. “You’ve got to be able to realize a 10-point lead disappears in a hurry. It doesn’t take but one lapse here or there.”
Sophomore center Charles Bassey led the Hilltoppers with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Graduate guard Camron Justice added 17 points and hit three 3-pointers in 32 minutes.
The Raiders shot 43.1% in their win against the Hilltoppers and outrebounded WKU 40-35 on the glass.
WSU also forced the Hilltoppers into 15 turnovers, and the Raiders were able to score 17 points off those takeaways.
Despite leading for only 10:38 of clock time throughout the contest, the Raiders successfully pulled the rug out from under WKU and escaped with their first-ever win over the Hilltoppers.
Senior forward Bill Wampler led the Raiders with 22 points while shooting 50% from the floor on 7-of-14 shots in 34 minutes.
Senior guard Cole Gentry added 17 points after leading the Raiders with 10 points in the first half.
“I’m sure this won’t be the last time,” Justice said in a release on the team facing adversity. “This is a sport. Adversity is what the game is really about. It’s how you bounce back from. We’ll see how we respond. All I’m saying is it’ll be a good game Saturday.”
Bassey scored the first points of the contest, as he rocked the rim on WKU’s opening possession.
The Raiders quickly responded by scoring the next five points and took a 5-2 lead just 1:52 into the game.
After being down for a short period of time, the Hilltoppers produced an 11-0 run that helped them take a 13-5 lead at the 14:33 mark.
The Hilltoppers took their largest lead of the first half when redshirt junior forward Carson Williams battled in the paint for a layup and gave WKU a 19-10 lead at the 12:03 mark.
WSU regained its lead by building an 8-0 run, as Gentry scored a layup to give the Raiders a 22-21 lead with 9:19 left to play in the opening half.
Bassey reached double figures at the 7:03 mark when he knocked down a midrange jumper from the right side of the court.
The Hilltoppers took their first double-digit lead of the game at the 4:31 mark, as junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth scored his sixth point of the night and gave WKU a 34-24 advantage.
The Raiders scored five straight points to cut into WKU’s lead, making it a 34-29 game at the 3:11 mark.
WSU would go on a 10-2 run to close out the half, giving the Hilltoppers a 36-34 halftime lead.
WKU took a two-point lead by shooting 47.1% from the floor in the first half, while the Raiders only shot 37.8%.
In the first half, Stansbury played eight different Hilltoppers, and seven of the eight players scored at least two points.
The Lagos, Nigeria, native led the Hilltoppers with 12 points in the first half in just 10 minutes of action.
Coming into the contest, Bassey averaged 9.5 rebounds a game, but he only had 2 rebounds at the half. The Raiders outrebounded WKU 23-19 in the first half.
The Raiders evened the score at 36-36 on their opening possession of the second half, and WKU responded by turning the ball over on three straight possessions to start the frame.
The Hilltoppers finally got settled into the half when Justice knocked down his second 3-pointer of the game, giving WKU a 39-36 lead at the 17:41 mark.
WKU then scored on five of its next six possessions, helping the Hilltoppers increase their lead to 48-40 at the 15:24 mark.
The Hilltoppers stretched their lead to double digits once again when Williams converted a layup and put WKU up 50-40 at the 14:08 mark.
But WSU wouldn’t go away easily, as the Huskies went on another 5-0 run to cut the WKU lead to only 50-45 at the 13:15 mark.
WKU maintained a 57-54 lead with just 10 minutes remaining in the game, but the Hilltoppers allowed the Raiders to score on six of their last seven possessions at one point.
The Raiders took their first lead of the second half when freshman forward Grant Basile scored, granting WSU a 60-59 lead with 8:03 left to play in the contest.
After being down 59-55 at the 8:47 mark, WSU went on an 11-0 run to take a commanding 66-59 lead with six minutes left in the game.
Redshirt senior wing Jared Savage swished home a 3-pointer to cut the WSU lead to only 66-62, but Wampler scored a 3-pointer on the other end to increase the Raider lead to 69-62 with just 5:19 left to play in the contest.
The Raiders pushed their lead out at 71-62, marking their largest lead of the game with 4:44 remaining.
But the Hilltoppers kept battling and eventually regained a 74-73 lead when Justice netted a jumper with 1:36 remaining.
Gentry scored on WSU’s next possession to recapture the lead for the Raiders, making it a 75-74 lead with 1:15 left to play in the contest.
The Raiders would hold onto their razor-thin advantage for the remainder of clock time in the game, and defeated the visiting Hilltoppers by a two-point margin at home.
“Just missing shots,” Hollingsworth said in a release. “It really starts on defense, honestly. We weren’t really getting stops, so we couldn’t convert anything.”
Following the loss, WKU will return home to host SEC opponent Arkansas (8-0) in Diddle Arena on Saturday night.
The Hilltoppers stormed back from an eight-point halftime deficit in Fayetteville, Arkansas, last season, holding on for a 78-77 upset road victory in Bud Walton Arena on Dec. 8, 2018.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.