It took all the Hilltoppers had to get the win Thursday night.
WKU Hilltopper Basketball held Rice scoreless for more than seven minutes late in regulation, then made clutch plays in the extra periods for a 92-85 road victory in double overtime.
“It takes grit, like Coach tells us,” redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden said. “We have to go out and play together. We were down 13 in the second half, but we never gave up on each other. We played hard and made a run.”
The Hilltoppers (14-10, 7-4 Conference USA) played without head coach Rick Stansbury, who missed the game because of a lingering back injury. Assistant Marc Hsu served as interim coach in Stansbury’s stead.
With Hsu leading the way, WKU claimed its sixth win in its last seven games.
The Hilltoppers trailed 70-57 with 7:38 to play, but didn’t allow Rice (9-15, 4-7) to score again until there were five seconds left.
A 14-1 WKU run gave the Tops the lead on a 3-pointer by redshirt junior guard/forward Jared Savage, but Rice’s Chris Mullins hit one free throw to send the game to overtime.
“It was do-or-die time then,” Savage said. ”If we didn’t make a run then, we weren’t going to make one and we were going to lose, so we had to.”
The Owls forced double OT with a late 3-pointer, but WKU scored the first five points of the second extra period, and Rice didn’t score in the frame until the 1:50 mark.
The Hilltoppers netted 9 of 11 free throws across both overtimes to seal the deal.
Sophomore guard Josh Anderson led all scorers with 24 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Savage added 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and five made 3s – including the first one of the game to make WKU the fifth program in NCAA history with 1,000 straight games with a made 3.
Redshirt senior guard Lamonte Bearden had 16 points and a career-high 11 assists with zero turnovers. Freshman center Charles Bassey recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 10 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, including three in OT while playing with four fouls.
Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth chipped in 10 points and six rebounds.
WKU scored the first nine points of the game and opened its largest lead at 12-2 on a 3-pointer by Bearden.
The Hilltoppers led 44-42 at the break, and the Owls used a 13-0 run in the second half to surge in front. Rice was cruising until the 7:38 mark, when WKU began to clamp down.
The Owls shot just 39 percent for the game and made 2 of 14 (14.3 percent) shots in overtime. Ako Adams paced them with 23 points.
WKU has a quick turnaround to finish the road swing at North Texas at 5 p.m. CT Saturday in Denton, Texas. The game will stream online on Stadium on Facebook.
“We just knew we had to get a road win,” Anderson said. “We know we have to get two of them. That’s what we came here to do.”
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WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations