LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) -- Adrian Banks scored 29 points, hitting all 11 of his free throws, to lead Arkansas State past Western Kentucky 80-73 in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament on Monday night.
Ryan Wedel scored 16 points for Arkansas State (18-14), which went 26-of-28 from the free throw line in advancing to play North Texas in Tuesday night's tournament final. The victory kept alive the second-seeded Indians' hopes of getting to their first NCAA Tournament since 1999.Third-seeded Western Kentucky (22-11) seemed to have the momentum when ASU's Ashton Farmer was called for a flagrant foul on Jeremy Evans, who hit both free throws, then scored underneath when the Hilltoppers retained possession after the foul shots. Courtney Lee followed with a 3-pointer in transition for a 7-0 run that put Western Kentucky up 49-40 five minutes into the second half.But the Hilltoppers were done in by a rash of fouls. They were over the limit with more than 14 minutes left in the game, putting Arkansas State on the free throw line often thereafter and the Indians chipped away.A pair of foul shots each by Wedel and Banks capped a 7-0 run that pulled Arkansas State to 49-47. Western Kentucky responded with a pair of jumpers by Butch Jointer and one by Tyrone Brazelton to pull ahead 55-47, then Wedel hit a 3-pointer as Arkansas State began to take over.Wedel's shot was one of two 3-pointers he hit during a 17-4 run that put ASU up 64-59 with 7:24 to go.Western Kentucky got within 76-73 on Evans' putback with 26 seconds left, but Banks followed with two more clutch free throws, then Shawn Morgan's breakaway dunk after a Western Kentucky miss sealed it.Courtney Lee led the Hilltoppers with 17 points, while Orlando Mendez-Valdez added 12, Brazelton 11 and Evans 10.Jim Jones and Isaac Wells each scored 11, and Wells had 11 rebounds for ASU, which outrebounded Western Kentucky 35-20.The Indians shot 51.1 percent, with Banks going 8-of-12. Wedel was 4-of-7 from 3-point range and 5-of-9 overall. Western Kentucky shot 45.5 percent.