There wasn't much difference between the two teams. WKU and Florida Atlantic were nearly identical in nearly every statistic.
Of course, the home Toppers had a weapon the Owls did not.
During a stretch midway through the second half, senior guard A.J. Slaughter took the scoring duties on himself. He scored 14 of WKU's 16 points in the stretch that was capped by his dead-on three-pointer from the top of the key with 9:19 left to play.
Slaughter's heroics were a big reason why the Toppers were able to hold off pesky Florida Atlantic 79-72.
"I just try to make plays coming down the stretch," Slaughter said. "My team needs me to make plays, whether it's getting my own shot or creating for someone else."
But throughout the game and especially just after Slaughter's big scoring run, it was hard for either team to get much of a rhythm going. The teams combined for 52 fouls, 27 of which belonged to the Owls. WKU converted 24 of its 35 free throws, while Florida Atlantic finished 18-31.
"I'd rather have them let us play a little bit," coach Ken McDonald said. "That way, the team that scraps the most doesn't get penalized. Those are the teams that I've been around mostly. With that said, we have to get better with getting the loose balls and some of the 50-50 balls."
The Toppers also got a lift from an efficient Steffphon Pettigrew. The junior forward finished with 21 points on 6-8 shooting from the field.
"We knew it was gonna be a hard-fought game," he said. "Everybody comes out and plays their best game against us. The referees started blowing their whistles, so we just tried to stay calm and just keep moving the ball and keep executing on offense. We knew our defense was there a little bit. We lost our intensity for a little bit but down the stretch we came through."
It's been a struggle throughout most of the season for junior forward Cliff Dixon. Adjusting to the move from junior college and to McDonald's system, there's been times where he hasn't seen much past the bench.
Dixon came up big off the bench tonight for WKU, with 11 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes of action.
"It was a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be," Dixon said. "I had to adjust to the pace of the game, how to score within the offense and stuff like that but I got it down. I'm still learning, I'm gonna keep on grinding."
Like the rest of the Toppers, Slaughter was slow to get going. He scored just four points in the first half. It's also another sign of Slaughter getting adjusted to the splint on his sprained right thumb. But as he often has this season, he's come on strong at the end of the game.
"I just keep playing," Slaughter said. "Not getting too high on myself or too low myself and just with this thumb injury, just really getting used to shooting and just playing with the splint. I think as time goes along, I'm just getting better and better with it."
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