WKU MBB at Wright State

Western Kentucky guard Camron Justice drives against Wright State during the Hilltoppers’ 76-74 loss Tuesday night at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio.

DAYTON, Ohio – Camron Justice predicts there will be days like this to come and Taveion Hollingsworth knows working through the tough stretches now is better than paying those consequences in the conference tournament.

Western Kentucky at times looked in control at Wright State until a few lapses shifted the momentum the Hilltoppers couldn’t get back for themselves.

Wright State rallied in the second half and Justice’s layup at the buzzer to force overtime missed the mark, giving the Hilltoppers a 76-74 loss Tuesday night.

The Hilltoppers have lost three of their last six games, including Friday’s 17-point loss to the now top-ranked Louisville Cardinals.

“At least we’re getting all the L’s out right now instead of the end of the season,” Hollingsworth said. “Seeing the team feel this loss, we just have to bounce back.”

The Hilltoppers (6-3) gave up a 10-point lead in the second half and watched the Raiders (7-2) swing the game in their favor by nine points with under five minutes to go. WKU made one basket in the last two minutes and dropped their second game in a row ahead of their return home to face Arkansas on Saturday.

“You’ve got to be able to control the flow of that thing and sometimes when you’re up 10, that same shot we took to get up 10 may not be as good a shot,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s a fine line. You have to push that thing at the right time, grind it and put a foot on their throat and we didn’t do that consistently.”

Wright State, the favorites to win the Horizon League, made its money at the free-throw line in the second half by shooting 11-of-17 from the stripe. WKU, which entered the night having made 32 more free throws than its opponents have attempted, made just two trips to the foul line in the last 20 minutes.

That made the difference in a two-point game where WKU otherwise had a better overall shooting percentage than the Raiders. But the Hilltoppers went 3-for-8 from the field in the last five minutes while Bill Wampler (22 points), Cole Gentry (17 points) and Grant Basile (12 points) led the Raiders’ rally.

“We just missed shots,” Hollingsworth said. “Some of them came off pretty slow and some of them came off hard. Really starts on defense, honestly. We weren’t really getting stops and couldn’t convert anything.”

Still, WKU had a chance to tie it late. Hollingsworth missed a floater with 36 seconds left and Wright State took possession with a five-second difference in the shot clock and game clock. Electing not to foul, Jaylon Hall missed a shot and Charles Bassey pulled down the rebound and fed it out to Hollingsworth.

The junior then passed it to Justice running down the sideline one-on-one against Basile with another defender trailing.

Justice’s layup was high and over the rim as the buzzer sounded.

“I saw that their big five-man was the one back,” Justice said. “I felt like I could get to the rim. I think it’s a 50-50 call. I think a lot of times at the end of the game you don’t get a call, but it can go either way. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

Bassey led the Hilltoppers with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. His absence was felt in the second half when he picked up a third foul and Wright State started the rally.

“It definitely changes things,” Justice said. “He’s a force and one of the best big men in the country. You always want to have him on the floor and when you don’t have him on the floor, things get a little bit complicated for us. I thought we battled through well a bit and could’ve done better. As a group, we’re going to learn from it and grow up.”

Justice had 17 points and made 3-of-5 shots from behind the arc. Hollingsworth rounded out the Hilltoppers in double figures with 15 points.

WKU found the basket early with Bassey starting out with the first six points from the paint. Wright State was without 6-foot-8 center Loudon Love, who’s out indefinitely with an elbow injury. Six Hilltoppers scored to help a 13-2 run to lead 19-10. Cole Gentry jumped in front of a pass to Justice at midcourt and scored on an easy layup to spark an individual 6-0 run that pushed the Raiders into a 22-21 lead.

WKU regained momentum with back-to-back Hollingsworth buckets extending the lead by 10. Carson Williams’ dunk with 2:12 to go in the half were the last points by the Hilltoppers while the Raiders closed the half on a 5-0 run make it 36-34 at halftime. Bassey had 12 points at the break on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Hilltoppers made 7-of-11 shots to start the second half, with Jared Savage’s 3-pointer pushing WKU’s lead to 53-45. Wampler’s three-point play at the timeout brought the Raiders back within 3.

Wright State’s Skyelar Potter hit a triple to bring it within one, then the Raiders got a stop and a Grant Basile layup to take a 60-59 lead at the 8:03 mark. Wampler hit a 3-pointer and Potter split two free throws and Basile’s layup forced Stansbury into a timeout, trailing the Raiders 66-59 with six minutes left. It was an 11-0 run while the Hilltoppers hit a cold streak of 1-of-6 shots in a nearly three-minute scoreless stretch.

Savage ended that drought with a triple out of the timeout to bring the gap back within four, but Wampler responded on the other end with his own 3-pointer.

Bassey’s three-point play with 2:22 to go brought it back within a one-point game, but WKU missed three of its next four shots to end the game.

“I’m sure this won’t be the last time,” Justice said. “This is a sport. Adversity is what the game is really about. It’s how you bounce back from it. We’ll see how we respond. All I’m saying is it’ll be a good game Saturday.”

UP NEXT

The Hilltoppers end their five-game stay away from Diddle Arena by returning home to face Arkansas on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CST. The Hilltoppers defeated the Razorbacks last year in Fayetteville, Ark.

NOTES

Rick Stansbury is now 68-45 in his fourth season as WKU’s coach and 361-211 overall. … The Hilltoppers drop to 1-1 all-time against Wright State. Stansbury is 3-1 against the Raiders. … Senior forward Matt Horton did not play due to a twisted ankle suffered against Louisville. … Bowling Green native and Warren Central alum Skyelar Potter had six points and six rebounds for Wright State. … Josh Anderson’s 3-pointer early in the first half extended WKU’s streak with a made 3-pointer to 1,019 consecutive games. ... With three blocks, Charles Bassey moved into ninth on WKU’s all-time list with 96. ... Jared Savage’s three assists tied a career-high.{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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