Bassey leads Western Kentucky in 78-77 upset of Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — With fewer than 30 seconds left in Western Kentucky’s game against Arkansas, Hilltoppers center Charles Bassey got the ball in the lane and was met by a couple Razorbacks defenders.
Instead of forcing it, the NBA prospect made a smart read and dumped the ball off to a wide-open Marek Nelson, who laid it in with 19 seconds to go.
Bassey then emphatically blocked Jalen Harris’ layup on the other end and altered a last-second attempt from Daniel Gafford, and the Hilltoppers earned their second power-five road upset of the season in a 78-77 victory over Arkansas.
“Charles was a man,” said Western Kentucky (5-4) coach Rick Stansbury. “He stood up and held his own. He made a great read late in that game. Those are the kind of plays and kind of games that will make him better, too.”
Bassey finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. His low-post battle with Gafford proved to be a rare post-play highlight in a game that’s increasingly oriented around the 3-point shot. The Nigeria native held his own against the Razorbacks’ star forward, despite the Arkansan going for 17 points and nine rebounds of his own.
“Gafford is a terrific player,” Stansbury said. “Not many big guys can run like Gafford. I thought (Charles) got into his legs a little bit today from a fatigue standpoint.”
When Josh Anderson was ejected from the game after picking up a flagrant-two foul, the Hilltoppers turned to Jared Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth to pick it up on the offensive end to complement Bassey’s low-post dominance. They responded by scoring 20 and 17, respectively.
“I think we just locked in defensively. Offensively, we had toughness coming out of halftime,” Savage said.
The Razorbacks (6-2) were led by freshman guard Isaiah Joe, who scored 15 of his 19 points by way of the 3-pointer. He now has 33 3s on the season, which ties Anthlon Bell for the ninth-most made 3s by a freshman in program history.
Gafford’s final basket came on a rebound putback with 45 seconds left in the second half that gave his team a lead.
Razorback coach Mike Anderson said the plan was to get the ball to Gafford coming out of a timeout after Nelson’s go-ahead layup, but the Hilltoppers’ defense deserved the credit for shutting him down and ending Arkansas’ 64-game home winning streak when leading at halftime.
“(We were thinking) let’s get the ball in to Dan, and if they collapse what they were doing, let’s get it to the shooters,” Anderson said. “They made a good play … big fellow blocked the shot.”
Arkansas: After locking down on defense to survive at Colorado State, the Razorbacks were unable to replicate that against Western Kentucky. Gaps in the Razorbacks’ defense allowed the Hilltoppers to get open shots, and they shot 60 percent from behind the arc in the second half. … Poor free-throw shooting finally played a role in an Arkansas loss, as the Hogs shot a forgettable 9 for 16 at the line. They came into the game shooting 63 percent.
Western Kentucky: Since 2017, the Hilltoppers have beaten SMU, Boston College, Purdue, USC, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Arkansas. … The C-USA team dominated the pace throughout the game and exploited Arkansas’ full-court press for easy layups. Players took advantage of Arkansas’ tendency to jump on pump fakes and drew fouls and easy dunks. They were able to survive an 11-for-17 free-throw performance to earn the victory.
Western Kentucky returns home to play Troy on Dec. 16.
Arkansas will host UTSA in its annual North Little Rock game next Saturday.