HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (3/10/13) – The Arkansas State University appeared on the verge of playing in the championship game of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference (SBC) Men's Basketball Championship Tournament, but Western Kentucky made a big play at a criticaltime in handing the Red Wolves a 58-56 loss in Sunday's (March 10) second semifinal-round contest at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Ark.
Arkansas State, which drops to 19-12 overall this season and is eliminated from the conference tournament, held a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining. ASU had ball possession with 55 seconds to go and junior Ed Townsel tried to dribble the shot clock down, but the ball stolen by Western Kentucky's T.J. Price who went the length of the court for a layup to put the Hilltoppers up 57-56 with 19 seconds to go. The Red Wolves had an opportunity to regain the lead as freshman guard Cameron Golden was fouled on drive to the basket, but unfortunately couldn't convert either of his free throws with 13 seconds remaining. Senior forwardBrandon Peterson managed to grab the missed free throw but turned the ball over while falling out of bounds A last-second triple try by Cameron Golden fell short of the mark as the final buzzer sounded.
"I though both teams played extremely hard and our effort was good enough to win it," said ASU head coach John Brady. "They (WKU) made some free throws and we didn't. I've got to give them (WKU) credit as they hit a couple of big baskets and made their free throws."
Western Kentucky, which will be making its second straight Sun Belt Championship Tourney appearance, led most of the way. The Hilltoppers would claim a 28-26 lead at intermission and held the upper hand for the first 14 minutes before senior guard Trey Finn's three-pointer tied it at 48-all. A Brandon Peterson layup and an ensuing freethrow had given ASU a 56-53 lead with 1:31 on the clock.
Brandon Peterson had 10 points and a game-high 12rebounds to lead Arkansas State, which shot 36.7% (18-49) from the floor to WKU's 34.6% (18-52). Trey Finn netted 10 points while Cameron Golden had nine and freshman forward Kelvin Downs tossed in eight.
The game marked possibly the final appearance in the careers of seniors Brandon Peterson, Trey Finn, and Marcus Hooten.
"Our three seniors have been among the best I've ever coached," said Brady. "They solidified our program and I appreciate what these guys have done for men's basketball at Arkansas State."
T.J. Price's game-high 24 points was tops for Western Kentucky, which is 19-15 on the season.
Arkansas State's 19 victories this season represents the program's most since the 1997-98 campaign when the Red Wolves went 20-9 overall. ASU, which could potentially play in a postseason tournament, won the SBC's West Division for the second time in the last three seasons.