Middle Tennessee Suffers OT Heartbreaker At WKU

February 25, 2005 · MT Media Relations
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky have played some nip-and-tuck battles through the years but the 112th installment of the impassioned rivalry rekindles memories of some of the great games in a series that began in 1914.

For the second time in as many meetings this season, Hilltopper freshman Courtney Lee made the decisive basket- a 3-pointer from the corner with 2.6 seconds remaining in overtime - to lift Western Kentucky to an 85-83 triumph in front of 6,455 and a regional television audience at Diddle Arena.

"This was a great college basketball game and it's one of those that if you were sitting in front of the television watching at home and didn't care who won, you would have loved the game," Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. "I'm proud of our players and the way they fought hard and battled. Maybe our paths will across again this season."

The game featured clutch shots from players on both sides, 12 lead changes and 10 ties. Middle Tennessee (17-11, 6-7) took its first lead in the overtime period when Bryan Smithson stole a pass, converted a layup on the other end and drew the foul to even the score 82-82 with 16 seconds remaining. Smithson nailed the free throw to complete the three-point play and give the Blue Raiders an 83-82 lead to set up the final gut-wrenching seconds.

Steve Thomas had his best game as a Blue Raider with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs, to lead four Middle Tennessee players in double figures. Thomas also played a career-high 42 minutes. Mike Dean tallied 19 for Middle Tennessee, while Michael Cuffee finished with 17 and Smithson added 12.

Anthony Winchester led five Western Kentucky players in double figures with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Antonio Haynes finished with 20 points, eight assists and four steals. Lee added 14 points on the strength of four-of-four from 3-point range, but none was bigger than his final shot that stuck the dagger in the hearts of Middle Tennessee players.

"It was a great game and we gave a solid effort," Thomas said. "We kept battling and it was a game that went back-and-forth. In a game like this it's about executing, making plays and finishing. We did that for the most part but we didn't finish the game at the end."

Western Kentucky (20-6, 9-4) took a 73-71 lead on Haynes' driving layup with 21 seconds remaining, but Dean connected on a 17-footer with 6.4 ticks remaining in regulation to even the score at 73-73. The Hilltoppers thought they had won the game at the end of regulation when Haynes' desperation 3-pointer from 35 feet was true but the shot was waved off because the clock never stopped after Dean's shot and Western Kentucky had to take the ball out of bounds with 6.4 seconds remaining under the Middle Tennessee basket. Lee's potential game-winner at the end of regulation was off the mark to set up the thrilling overtime period.

The Blue Raiders trailed by four on two occasions in the extra period, including an 82-78 cushion with 58 seconds remaining, but Cuffee connected for a layup to cut the deficit in half with 41 seconds to go and then Smithson made the steal, converted the layup and hit the free throw to give Middle Tennessee its short-lived lead.

Middle Tennessee trailed 35-31 at the half but it came out strong in the second half and built its biggest lead, 54-48, on Marcus Morrison's jumper with 10:50 remaining in the second half. Western Kentucky battled back to even the score and then both teams were engaged in a dogfight to the finish.

DEAN RE-INJURES TOE: Middle Tennessee senior guard Mike Dean hit the game-tying jumper with six seconds remaining at the end of regulation, but he re-aggravated a lingering toe injury when he was tripped up going back down the court. Dean was unable to play the overtime period and his status for Monday's regular-season finale at Florida International is uncertain.

DEAN PASSES CARTER: With two 3-pointers against Western Kentucky, Mike Dean passed Nod Carter to move into fifth place on the career 3-point goals made list at Middle Tennessee with 107.

CAREER NIGHT FOR THOMAS: Senior Steve Thomas enjoyed his best game of the season and provided a spark for the Blue Raiders at Western Kentucky. Thomas scored 20 points and hauled in 11 rebounds, both career highs, and also played 42 minutes - his most extensive action of the season.

SMITHSON STAYS HOT AT THE LINE: Sophomore Bryan Smithson was 7-of-7 from the free-throw line against Western Kentucky, including hitting a charity toss with six seconds remaining in overtime that gave the Blue Raiders an 83-82 lead. Smithson has connected on 21 straight free throws and is shooting 23-of-24 (96 percent) in Sun Belt play. For the season, Smithson is 52-of-62 (84 percent) from the line.

INSIDE THE PAINT: The 85-83 overtime loss against Western Kentucky marked the first time the Blue Raiders have lost when scoring 80 or more under Head Coach Kermit Davis. Middle Tennessee is now 5-1 this season and 11-1 under Davis when scoring 80 or more points ... Middle Tennessee won the rebounding battle, 40-33, including 16 offensive boards ... Neither team's bench was much of a factor in the outcome despite foul trouble for both squads. The Blue Raiders' bench accounted for six points (four from Kyle Young and two from Marcus Morrison), while Western Kentucky had just three points off the bench - a 3-pointer from Ty Rogers ... With 11 rebounds against the Hilltoppers, Steve Thomas has had double-figure rebounds games a team-best seven times in his 21 games played.

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