Hilltoppers fall to MTSU 70-62

Hilltoppers fall to MTSU 70-62

A sellout crowd of 7,326 was on-hand at E.A. Diddle Arena Saturday night to see the 129th meeting between WKU and Middle Tennessee, and the Blue Raiders came out on top of a hard-fought game, 70-62.

Bowling Green, Ky. — A sellout crowd of 7,326 was on-hand at E.A. Diddle Arena Saturday night to see the 129th meeting between WKU and Middle Tennessee, and the Blue Raiders came out on top of a hard-fought game, 70-62. WKU finishes the regular season with a 16-15 overall record and a 10-10 mark in Sun Belt Conference play. Middle Tennessee, the conference champion and number-one seed for the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament, ends the regular season at 27-4 overall and 19-1 in league games and on a school-record 16-game winning streak.

WKU led by a point with 5:16 to go in the game, but the veteran Blue Raider squad closed the game on a 8-0 run over the final 1:27 to secure the win after the Hilltoppers tied the game at 62 on a Brandon Harris three-pointer.

Three Hilltoppers were in double figures Saturday night, led by George Fant's 18 points and six rebounds. T.J. Price scored 14 points, with 11 coming in the second half, and Jamal Crook had 10 points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals. Middle Tennessee was led by JT Sulton's 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and the Blue Raiders shot 48.0 percent for the game (24-for-50) compared to WKU's 42.3 percent (22-for-52).

Middle Tennessee led 21-17 in the first half before using a 6-0 scoring burst on back-to-back three-pointers to go up 27-18 while WKU missed four-straight shots. But the Hilltoppers responded with five-in-a-row to come within four points at 27-23 after a Fant and-one and a Crook layup

Middle Tennessee took a 31-26 lead into the halftime locker room a few minutes later, and the Blue Raiders matched their largest lead of the game at 42-33 just over four minutes into the second half.

But once again the Hilltoppers battled back, rattling off six-straight over 2:29 capped by a Harris triple in the corner to bring it to 42-39.

A pair of Crook free throws at the 10:28 mark tied the game at 46, and the Hilltoppers took a two-point lead at 48-46 on an Aleksejs Rostov lay-in.

WKU led by as many as four points on two Rostov free throws and three points on three separate occasions as late as 5:30 to play, but the Blue Raiders re-took a lead they would never relinquish en route to the eight-point win after breaking a 62-all tie with eight-straight tallies.

In all, there were four ties and five lead changes in the game.

WKU honored seniors Jamal Crook, Marcus Vasquez and three student-managers before the game.

With Saturday's sell-out crowd, WKU has now had 14 crowds of over 7,000 since the 2002-03 renovation to E.A. Diddle Arena.

Saturday's game concluded the 50th season of basketball at E.A. Diddle Arena, and the Hilltoppers are now 535-151 in the historic venue.

WKU now turns its attention to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, running March 8-11 in Hot Springs, Ark. The official bracket and schedule of games will be released later Saturday or early Sunday by the conference. WKU will begin play as the sixth-seed on Friday against 11th-seeded ULM.

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