Toppers show grit upsetting Arkansas in OT

WKU Athletics

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers' Taveion Hollingsworth celebrates against during Saturday's game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

BOWLING GREEN -- It was a resurrection Saturday night for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

Left for dead inside the final minute of regulation, WKU rallied from a five-point deficit in the final 32 seconds to force overtime, then dominated down the stretch to upend previously unbeaten Arkansas 86-79 before a raucous E.A. Diddle Arena crowd of 6,862.

"I'm awfully proud of our guys," Hilltopper head coach Rick Stansbury said. "I thought we showed a lot of grit and toughness at the end. We hung in there and made plays, and that's what good basketball teams do with the game on the line.

"I'll tell you this, our fans were just outstanding tonight in every way. They provided a lot of energy and that sort of spurred us back into the game when we fell behind there in the final minute of regulation -- we probably couldn't have won it without them."

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Hilltoppers (7-3), who lost the services of 6-foot-11 sophomore All-American candidate Charles Bassey to a left knee injury with 3:41 remaining in regulation with the game tied at 62. Bassey will undergo an MRI at 8 a.m. today.

"There was some swelling, and that's never good," Stansbury said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Two free throws by Mason Jones pushed the Razorbacks in front 73-68 with 36 seconds left in regulation, but Taveion Hollingsworth hit a pair of free throws at 0:32, and, after a charging call on Arkansas, Jared Savage swished a deep 3-pointer from the right corner to tie the contest at 73 at 0:29.

The Hogs had two shots to win it in the final seconds -- a 3-pointer by Jones and a rushed putback just before the horn by Jimmy Whitt -- but neither found the mark.

It was nip-and-tuck for the first three minutes of OT, before the Hilltoppers took over.

A free throw by Josh Anderson and a steal and reverse layup by Hollingsworth pushed Western in front 80-77 at the two-minute mark. A free throw by Adrio Bailey pulled Arkansas within two, but the Toppers got two free throws from Carson Williams, two more from Savage, and a steal and dunk by Hollingsworth in a closing 6-1 spurt that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

"A game like this is about who has more heart, and I thought we showed that we have a lot of heart," Savage said. "We pulled together as a team after Charles went out, really poured everything we had into this game at the end, and I believe we got rewarded for it with a big win."

Hollingsworth also saluted the crowd.

"It was so loud at the end, you couldn't hear yourself think," he said. "We'd been struggling a little, but these fans stuck with us and really showed out tonight. I am very impressed by that and very appreciative."

Hollingsworth had a monster game, finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Anderson came off the bench to produce 15 points and six rebounds, Savage scored 14, Bassey had 10 points and six rebounds, and Camron Justice had 12 points.

Arkansas (8-1), featuring a four-guard lineup, was led be Desi Sills, who scored 20 points and Whitt, who scored 17 points and secured a game-best 12 rebounds.

WKU had the edge in all the key categories, including points in the paint (46-26), second-chance points (15-8), fastbreak points (15-13), bench points (19-9) and points off turnovers (23-17).

"We made too many turnovers in a full building on the road," Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman said. "I feel like this was a game we should have won, but we didn't, so we have to learn from it."

Since the 2017-18 season, WKU is now 8-4 against Power Five teams, including last year's 78-77 conquest of the Hogs in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Hilltoppers return to action on Dec. 17 when they host Kentucky Wesleyan in the 37th Annual BB&T Classic,

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