HOUSTON – Lamonte Bearden wanted to win one Thursday night for his head coach.

Rick Stansbury wasn’t on the sidelines at Tudor Fieldhouse for Western Kentucky’s 92-85 double-overtime victory at Rice. He’s dealt recently with a lingering back injury and was physically unable to coach Thursday.

Bearden (16 points, 11 assists, no turnovers) and his teammates rallied around assistant Marc Hsu, who filled in for Stansbury. The Hilltoppers overcame a late 13-point hole and outlasted the Owls in double-OT for a seven-point win.

“We just tried to play together and kind of play for (Stansbury),” the guard Bearden told the Daily News. “That gave us a spark. The guys were great tonight.”

WKU (14-10 overall, 7-4 Conference USA) has now won six of its last seven games and sits fourth in the league standings. The Toppers had to overcome adversity Thursday to add another win to the ledger.

After taking an early 19-10 lead, WKU watched Rice (9-15, 4-7) come back and get within 44-42 at halftime. The Owls seized control in the second half and built a lead all the way to 70-57 with 7:39 to play.

“It was do-or-die time,” guard/forward Jared Savage said. “If we didn’t make a run then, we were going to lose.”

From there, WKU launched a 14-0 run, and the game went to overtime tied 71-all. Then the teams were knotted at 80 after the first five-minute OT period, requiring a second.

Guard Josh Anderson scored six of his game-high 24 points in double-overtime as the Hilltoppers pulled away for only their fourth road win this season in 11 chances.

“It just shows you about the resiliency of this group,” said Talvis Franklin, WKU’s director of basketball operations. “I thought this team showed great grit and just grind-it-out effort to get back in that thing and then go to overtime, take that lead and keep it. I’m proud of our guys, proud of the way we hung in there, proud of the staff and the way everybody pulled together in coach’s absence to get this win.”

The Tops were stuck in a rut when Jack Williams’ layup put them down 13. To that point, WKU had made only five second-half field goals and had coughed up 15 turnovers for the game.

Defensive stops started leading to Hilltopper buckets. WKU got within 70-64 on a Taveion Hollingsworth jumper, 70-66 on a Charles Bassey layup and 70-68 on an Anderson jumper.

Savage then put the Hilltoppers back in front, nailing a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to make it 71-70 WKU. That 3 from the redshirt junior came off one of Bearden’s career-high 11 assists.

Bearden has now totaled 25 assists with three turnovers over the last three games. The Toppers have won all those contests.

“The biggest thing he does when he has 11 and zero is he helps us maintain the pace of that game and give us better control, better flow of the game,” Franklin said.

Officials whistled Anderson for a foul on Rice’s final possession of regulation. Chris Mullins hit his first free-throw attempt but missed the second, and the game went to overtime.

The first overtime period was highlighted by yet another sensational Anderson dunk. The victim this time was Rice forward Quentin Millora-Brown.

The 6-foot-6 Anderson tore in from the right elbow and skied over the 6-9 Millora-Brown, throwing down a right-handed jam over the Owls freshman’s outstretched arms. The dunk put WKU up 78-77 with 1:18 left in OT.

Anderson threw down a similar dunk over Millora-Brown in the first half but was called for a charge. This one came in at No. 2 on SportsCenter’s top plays of the night and earned a Twitter shoutout from NBA star Dwyane Wade.

Savage said Thursday’s effort was “probably No. 1” on the list of emphatic Anderson dunks he’s seen. He ranked it just barely ahead of the one he threw down back on Dec. 1 in a win over Tennessee State.

“When they called it (a charge in the first half), I’ll take that,” the sophomore Anderson said. “I was being aggressive. Offensive foul, I’ll take that if I’m going up and playing above the rim. So I just did that again (in overtime).”

WKU led 80-77 with 27 seconds left in OT but couldn’t seal the win. Ako Adams, who scored a team-best 23 points for Rice, drained one of his seven 3-pointers to tie the game at 80 with 15 seconds to play.

Bassey was called for offensive goaltending on the following possession, and the game went to double-OT.

Bearden started the second extra period with a 3-pointer. After a WKU stop, Anderson swished a jumper to put the Tops ahead 85-80 with 3:11 to go.

Rice didn’t score in double-OT until two Mullins foul shots with 1:50 left. Anderson answered with a pair of his own free throws, and the Hilltoppers kept at least a four-point lead the rest of the night.

After the win, the team went into the locker room and mobbed Hsu, spraying him with water bottles. The second-year WKU assistant hasn’t been a head coach since working in 2006-07 at Laurinburg (N.C.) Prep.

“Hsu stepped up and gave us a lot of motivation, a lot of energy,” Savage said. “It showed early in the game and it showed in overtime. He was good for us tonight.”

Then the players FaceTimed Stansbury, who watched the game from the team’s Houston hotel, to include him in the celebration.

“I think it just takes grit,” Bearden said of the win. “Like coach tells us, we’ve got to go out and play together.

“We were down 13 the second half but we never gave up on each other. We played hard and made a run.”

3-point streak hits 1,000

WKU on Thursday became just the fifth Division I program to reach 1,000 straight games with at least one made 3-pointer.

Savage is the man who pushed the Hilltoppers’ streak into quadruple digits. He hit a corner 3 with 16:38 left in the first half for WKU’s first long-range make of the night.

The Toppers trail only UNLV (1,060), Vanderbilt (1,052) and Duke (1,042) on the active list of consecutive games with a made 3-pointer. Kentucky was the first team to cross the 1,000-game mark, but its streak was snapped last season.

Savage scored 21 points and shot 7-of-15 from the floor and 5-of-12 from 3-point range Thursday. The redshirt junior has now made 60 treys this season.

“I tell him to keep shooting all the time,” Bearden said, “even when he’s off.”

Up next

WKU bused north after Thursday’s game to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where it’ll face North Texas at 5 p.m. Saturday in Denton, Texas.

The Mean Green (20-4, 8-3) blasted Marshall 78-51 on Thursday night. WKU is 20-5 all-time against UNT in a series that dates to the programs’ time together in the Sun Belt Conference.

Notes

Stansbury is 56-38 in his third season at WKU and 349-204 overall in his coaching career. Thursday’s game counted toward Stansbury’s win-loss record even though he was unable to coach it. … The Hilltoppers lead their all-time series against Rice 4-2 and are 3-1 against the Owls in Houston. … Bassey’s 14 rebounds gave him 247 for his freshman season. He passed Derrick Gordon (236) for most all-time among WKU freshmen. … Bassey’s 10 points gave him 349 for the year, seventh-most in Topper history for a freshman. He passed Patrick Sparks (343) on the freshman scoring list Thursday. … Announced attendance at Tudor Fieldhouse was 1,757. Those in attendance included reigning NBA MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets.{&end}

– Follow Daily News sports reporter Brad Stephens on Twitter @BradBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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