BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- The Golden Eagles held a 10-point halftime lead, but WKU's home-court advantage proved to be too much in a 75-72 decision on Saturday night.
The free-throw line was a key difference, as 18 of the Hilltoppers' 24 attempts came in the second half. Southern Miss was limited to 11 overall tries in the back-and-forth battle.
WKU (16-8, 9-3 C-USA) connected on a three with 21 seconds left for a 72-68 lead, and Tyler Stevenson responded with a dunk six ticks later. After WKU added a free-throw, Gabe Watson hit two more to keep it a 73-72 deficit. WKU then made two with six seconds remaining, and Watson's contested three at the buzzer was no good.
"I'm hurting for our guys and program," head coach Jay Ladner said. "They get better every night. We led most of the way against the most talented team in the league. We showed tremendous poise in a great environment. Leonard Harper-Baker, who got banged up against Marshall, showed he is a Southern Miss guy with his toughness for 36 minutes."
WKU scored the first six points of the second half before Artur Konontsuk drilled a three to up the lead back to 44-37. The Hilltoppers finally drew even at 8:14, and back-to-back layups by Harper-Baker made it a 63-61. Their first lead came at 3:18.
"Good players and good teams find ways to win," Ladner said. "We just aren't there yet. We had opportunities to take charges and instead contested and they went to the foul line. WKU has a great home-court advantage, and it influences the game. This is what it's supposed to be about: a beautiful arena and a crowd really into the game."
Southern Miss (7-18, 3-9 C-USA) returns home for its final two games before C-USA bonus play. Thursday's contest is against Florida Atlantic at 7 p.m. CT.
-Southern Miss' 41 points in the first half were its most against a Division I team this season.
-The 10 three-pointers were one off a season-high, set against Gonzaga and Tougaloo.
-The Golden Eagles produced 21 assists, the fourth time this season and second against D1 competition eclipsing 20.
-LaDavius Draine's five treys moved him into sole possession of third on the school's career list (165), surpassing Neil Watson (2011-14). Next up is Casey Fisher (1984-88) with 194.
-Draine's 21 points and 10 rebounds marked his first double-double, as well as the eighth, 20-point game of his career (fourth in the last six games).
-Bill Muse Jr. played 13 minutes after going the whole season prior with just 16. He notched a three-pointer in the second half, which was his second field goal on the year (also a trey against Seton Hall) in five tries.
-Leonard Harper-Baker was one rebound and one assist from his third-straight double-double and 10th of his career.
-In Harper-Baker's last four games, he is averaging 38.0 minutes, 10.3 points, 12 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
Feb 17Ben McNair Recreational CenterFree
Feb 17Ben McNair CenterFree