Toppers come up short in NIT semifinal, fall 69-64 to Utah

Toppers come up short in NIT semifinal, fall 69-64 to Utah


NEW YORK — WKU Hilltopper Basketball's remarkable season came to an end Tuesday night with a 69-64 loss to Utah in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

The Hilltoppers (27-11) led by as much as 13 in the first half, but Utah (23-11) made big plays down the stretch – none bigger than Tyler Rawson's 3-pointer with 38 seconds left that put the Utes up for good.

WKU's 27 wins this year were the program's most since 2007-08, and their 38 games played tied the program record. The Hilltoppers tied a program record with three postseason victories and advanced to the NIT semifinals for the first time since 1954. They finished the season 4-2 against Power 5 conference schools.

Senior forward Justin Johnson led WKU with 24 points and 11 rebounds in his final college game for the 40th double-double his career.

Redshirt junior guard Lamonte Bearden finished with 12 points, while senior forward Dwight Coleby had 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Johnson started the game with an 8-0 run of his own, including two 3-pointers, and the Hilltoppers pushed their advantage to 18-5 on a basket by Bearden with 3:07 left in the first quarter.

Utah went on an 11-0 run in the second quarter to get in front for the first time, but Bearden later tied it at the break with a fast-break dunk at the buzzer to make it 32-32.

WKU still led 60-57 with 4:44 remaining, making this the first time in 37 instances under head coach Rick Stansbury that the Hilltoppers have lost a lead with under five minutes to play.

WKU last led 64-63 with 1:27 to go on a layup by Johnson, but Rawson swung the momentum with his go-ahead 3-pointer for Utah, which scored the final six points of the contest.

Justin Bibbins paced the Utes with 19 points, making 12 of 12 free throws.