BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Eastern Kentucky had a one-point lead over Western Kentucky as the clock clicked down, but Justin Johnson hit a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left to give WKU an 86-84 victory on Tuesday at Diddle Arena.
Eastern (6-2) trailed by five before staging a comeback in the final two minutes. Nick Mayo scored on a lay-up and K.J. Bluford hit a free throw to get the visitors within two. After Western (4-3) missed two lay-ups, Jarelle Reischel knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Colonels in front 84-83 with 19 seconds left.
Johnson appeared to be in trouble at the top of the key on the WKU end looking for an open player as the clock clicked toward zero. He was forced to throw up a desperation three-pointer that found the basket. It was his first career trey. EKU got off a half court shot at the buzzer but the attempt missed to the right.
Jaylen Babb-Harrison led Eastern Kentucky with 18 points, hitting on 6-of-7 three-pointers. JaVontae Hawkins added 17 points and a team-best seven rebounds. Reischel had 16 points and six boards. Mayo contributed 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field.
Eastern Kentucky overcame a big first half deficit and then recovered from 10-point second half deficit.
A lay-up by Hawkins gave Eastern a 45-43 lead with 17:05 remaining in the game, but the Colonels went over four minutes without scoring as WKU rolled of 12 straight to take a 10-point lead. EKU slowly chipped away, closing the gap to one twice before tying the score, 78-78, with 2:47 to go.
Both teams shot over 50 percent from the field and from three-point range for the game. Eastern Kentucky made 51 percent of its shots and 60 percent (15-of-25) from deep. The Colonels came into the game ranked third in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (45.3 percent).
The first half was highlighted by two long runs. WKU began the game by hitting on 5-of-8 from behind the three-point arc and led 21-2 just over seven minutes into the game. However, the Colonels answered with a 25-5 run of their own to take the lead.
Bluford got it started with a three-pointer and then hit two more treys during the run. Babb-Harrison also had a pair of three-pointers. A turnaround jumper from Mayo cut the deficit to two points. Reischel came up with a big steal under his own basket and dished to Paul Jackson on the wing who drained a three-pointer to give EKU its first lead, 27-26, with 5:25 left in the first half.
After starting the game with a hot shooting stretch, the Hilltoppers made just 4-of-14 from the field during the Eastern run.
Western led 39-38 at the break.
Aaron Cosby led WKU with 26 points. Johnson finished with a double-double, posting 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds.
The Colonels will play at Savannah State on Saturday at 8 p.m.