BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Two road games and two overtimes, but on this trip away from home the Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t have any miracle shots to save the day as the host Western Kentucky Hilltoppers made all the plays at the end of regulation and overtime to send the Hogs to their first defeat of the season, 86-79, on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Arkansas (8-1) was one of only 11 unbeaten teams in the country before tasting defeat on the road. The Hogs lost a six-point lead, 70-64, in the final 47 seconds of regulation before being outscored 9-2 in the final 2:19 of overtime.
Arkansas turnovers were critical in those late WKU runs. The Hogs suffered 4 giveways spanning the final 31 seconds of regulation and the 5-minute extra period that Western Kentucky (7-3) converted into 10 points — the biggest of which was an offensive-foul turnover that led to ‘Toppers guard Jared Savage drilling a 3-pointer with 0:26 to play in regulation to tie the game at 73-all.
Junior guard Mason Jones — the hero who made a 35-foot buzzer-beating bank-triple that gave the Hogs a 62-61 overtime win in their first road game against Georgia Tech last month — misfired at the end of regulation against WKU on Saturday (so did Jimmy Whitt, Jr., on a putback attempt) as the game moved to OT.
From there WKU controlled most of the overtime period. Hogs’ senior forward Adrio Bailey dunked at the 3:12 mark to tie the game at 77-all, but the Hilltoppers shot 2-of-3 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line in the closing 2:19 of the extra period while Arkansas shot 0-of-4 from the field and 2-of-4 free throws with 3 turnovers in the same span.
“I think turnovers have been a problem for us since we we got together in the summer,” said Arkansas first-year head coach Eric Musselman. “And you can’t play on the road in a building that’s full like this and turn the ball over 16 times. I thought we were not tough with the ball in the first half, and certainly it carried down the stretch — the turnovers.
“Having said that, coming out of the timeout the instructions were no 3-balls under any circumstances, run them off the 3, they can only shoot inside. Savage hit a tough shot although we didn’t even make him put the ball on the floor. From our end, all we can do is learn. It’s a game certainly I think we should have won, but we didn’t.”
A win would have meant Arkansas’s first 9-0 start to a season since the 1993-94 national championship Hogs began their season 10-0.
“Certainly we’re not happy tonight,” Musselman said. “To me it’s a one-game season. We have one game to worry about and whatever happened in the other eight games is irrelevant. And we lost tonight, so we’ve got to go back and learn from it and get ready for Tulsa.”
Arkansas trailed 63-62 when sophomore guard Isaiah Joe made his fifth 3-pointer at the 2:48 mark to ignite an 8-1 Hogs’ run that was capped by sophomore guard Desi Sills’ five consecutive points for a 70-64 Arkansas lead with 1:03 to play.
WKU managed the clock with quick fouls while converting its own field-goal and free-throw attempts in its comeback to close out regulation.
The Hilltoppers won rebounds (44-39), second-chance points (15-8), points-in-the-paint (46-26), turnovers (16-15), and points-off-turnovers (23-17).
Arkansas shot 28-of-67 field goals (41.8%), including 9-of-30 from 3 (30.0%), and 14-of-20 free throws (70.0%). WKU was 31-of-67 from the field (46.3%), including 5-of-19 from 3 (26.3%), and 19-of-28 free throws (67.9%).
Sills led Arkansas with a career-high 20 points (7-of-11 field goals, including 3-of-7 from 3, and 3-of-3 free throws) to go with 2 steals and 3 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Joe made 5-of-14 from 3 and had 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 5 turnovers in 42 minutes.
Whitt had his second double-double of the season — 17 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in 43 minutes.
Bailey and junior guard Jalen Harris combined for 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
WKU guard Taveion Hollingsworth led all scorers with 23 points to go with 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in 42 minutes. Guard Josh Alexander finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds, snd Savage had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Guard Cameron Justice had 12 points.
Star sophomore big man Charles Bassey managed only 10 points and 6 rebounds before leaving the game late in regulation with an apparent knee injury.
Next up the Hogs return home to host Tulsa at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.