"In the last five minutes (WKU's) newer players were so much tougher than our experienced players and that's what it boiled down to."
- Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis
Middle Tennessee has suffered more than its fair share of heartbreaking losses to Western Kentucky at Diddle Arena, but Thursday's 63-61 setback will likely have its own spot in history.
Steffphon Pettigrew grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback basket with less than three seconds remaining to break a tie and send the Blue Raiders to their sixth straight loss against the Hilltoppers.
The game was a back-and-forth contest of big runs, with each team having spurts where it looked like the game was about to be in control.
The Blue Raiders opened the second half on a 23-9 run to overcome an eight point halftime deficit, but Western Kentucky responded with its own 11-0 run to regain the lead.
MT's final shot at a win came on a Demetrius Green spinning 3-pointer as time expired.
Western Kentucky had all the momentum entering halftime after closing the half on a 12-3 run that concluded with a buzzer beating 3-pointer by Anthony Sally, but MT responded in the second half with its best extended stretch of the game. Following an intentional foul called against WKU and a technical foul on Hilltopper coach Ken McDonald, the Blue Raiders had surged to a 47-41 lead. That's when the tables turned as WKU rattled off 11 straight points, a stretch that included two MT turnovers and a technical foul on Kermit Davis. The Blue Raiders had chances to win after that run, but they missed on a chance to assert full control of the game when they had a six point lead.
F Calvin O'NeilClick Here to view this Link.-O'Neil only had six points but a couple of his baskets came in the final minutes and would have been crucial points had MT managed to pull off the win. His spinning shot that tied the game with less than a minute remaining was a thing of beauty, and he also pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds.
Honorable Mention: Montarrio Haddock-Haddock fouled out in only 13 minutes and had some costly turnovers, but he was a big factor on offense when he was in the game, with nine points in limited action.
Season Star Count
ON THE GLASS
Middle Tennessee had several defensive possessions where it appeared the Blue Raiders were about to get a crucial step, only to have their efforts foiled by giving up an offensive rebound.
It was only appropriate that WKU hit the game winning basket off a second chance opportunity as the Hilltoppers had 15 such points in the game, keyed by nine second half offensive rebounds.
For a program that prides itself on toughness around the goal, being outrebounded 35-28 was especially tough for the Raiders to swallow.
"They got five offensive rebounds in the last five minutes and they all led to baskets," MT head coach Kermit Davis said. "If we rebound the ball we have a chance to win the game but I thought their toughness in the last five minutes was much better than ours. They made the more physical plays and won the game."
With the score knotted at 61, McDonald called timeout for WKU with 12 seconds on the shot clock and 17 seconds on the game clock. With such small disparity between the two clocks, the Hilltoppers could afford to crash the offensive glass, which is exactly what they did when A.J. Slaughter fired a 3-pointer as the clock ticked close to five seconds.
"Rebounding was the only message we needed to hear (in the timeout)," MT forward Desmond Yates said. "We knew they were going to take a shot and we just had to box out. Unfortunately we didn't do it."
WKU had two players reach 10 rebounds while the Blue Raiders' high rebounder had only six caroms.
NO TIME FOR SULKING
With another very difficult road game coming Saturday night at UALR, the Blue Raiders have no time to dwell on the disappointment in Bowling Green.
Though now tied at the top of the Sun Belt East with WKU, a win over the Trojans would keep MT in a position of strength when it returns home next week to face Arkansas State.
With a veteran team, Davis expects his squad to bounce back with another passionate effort in Little Rock.
"It's a tough travel deal," Davis said of the quick trip to Little Rock. "We will have played in four tough places, at North Texas, South Alabama, (WKU), and Little Rock, so we knew it was going to be a grind. We've won two out of three and we'll bounce back and play well on Saturday night."
Jan. 17: Middle Tennessee at Arkansas-Little Rock, 7 p.m.