LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jamal Crook found himself in the right place at the right time.
And because of that, Western Kentucky has a three-game win streak.
Crook’s tip-in with 0.7 seconds to play Thursday pushed WKU to a 61-59 win over host Arkansas-Little Rock at the Jack Stephens Center.
“The play was for (Steffphon) Pettigrew and I was just supposed to be at the top of the key to take my defender out of the play,” Crook said after the game. “But he went and helped, so I ran down the lane hoping no one saw me – and the ball got tipped, and I was at the right place at the right time.”
The win was WKU’s third straight, and eighth in its last 10 tries.
The victory also keeps the Hilltoppers in the hunt for a first-round bye in the upcoming Sun Belt Tournament, as WKU current sits 1 1/2 games back of Middle Tennessee for second place in the Sun Belt East with three games left to play – as the Blue Raiders dropped a portion of their lead with an overtime loss at Troy on Thursday.
“Physical basketball game and we’re glad to be on this end of it,” WKU coach Ken McDonald said. “We talked a lot about how we were going to have to out-play them by one or two possessions and it comes down to a play we execute very well but had to make an extra play to win the basketball game.”
After UALR had erased a 10-point second half WKU lead and tied the game at 59 on a Solomon Bozeman putback with 28 seconds left, the Hilltoppers were left with one possession for the win.
The play was designed for Pettigrew to take the final shot, but as he went in the air, the ball was dislodged and batted toward the rim – where an alert Crook was waiting for the game-winning layup.
From there, Juan Pattillo would intercept UALR’s last-second heave to seal the victory.
“That last play there, that was a loose ball – and we didn’t have a white jersey there,” UALR coach Steve Shields said. “Give (Crook) credit – we were sound defensively, we made the right switch, we just didn’t get after the loose ball.”
Pettigrew agreed, saying Crook deserved the bulk of the credit for the heads-up play.
“First I got bumped and I thought they were going to call a foul, but the ball got tipped up in the air,” Pettigrew said. “But Jamal was right there in the right place at the right time to tip it in.
“This was a big win – we’ve got to keep building.”
For full coverage, see Friday’s Daily News