Timely bounce secures 67-63 win
With his team holding a three lead, junior forward Jeremy Evans had picked up his dribble and was looking for a pass with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. But two of his teammates were unclear who the pass was for.
Junior guard A.J. Slaughter and sophomore guard Sergio Kerusch ran into each other going for the pass. With the shot clock running down, Slaughter heaved a prayer from near half court. The shot grazed the right side of the rim, but junior guard Anthony Sally was there for the rebound.
Despite being outrebounded and a lower shooting percentage, WKU caught a few good bounces, holding off visiting Georgia 67-63.
Sally made one of two free throws, giving the Toppers a 64-60 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
"I wrote that play up, the half-court shot," coach Ken McDonald said, jokingly. "I had to laugh, because sometimes, it's just a lucky bounce. I was psyched that A.J. hit the rim. Once again, he loves it at the end of the shot clock. That was a huge play."
WKU shot 35.5 percent from the floor as opposed to Georgia's 41.7 percent and was outrebounded 41-39, but found a way to overcome the Bulldogs' height advantage. The Toppers also had the advantage of junior center Albert Jackson limited to eight minutes of action with an ankle injury.
"Coach told us going into the game that it was gonna be very physical, more physical than the last game, because they had maybe two or three guys the size of (Samardo) Samuels," Evans said. "We took it as a challenge, just to get better and compete against bigger guys. It sets us up for what we have to face in the future."
Slaughter led WKU with 20 points and added five rebounds. His performance compensated for a 2-15 shooting night by sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who finished with eight points after his big game against Louisville.
"It's definitely a plus, when you're not shooting good, just knowing that you've got teammates that can put the ball in the basket and we can still come up on the winning side," Slaughter said.
"After the Murray State game, I know a lot of guys' heads were down and now you can see it in the guys' eyes. They've got all the confidence in the world that we can compete with anybody in the country."
For the second game in a row, WKU took good care of the ball. The Toppers had just nine turnovers against the Bulldogs and 13 against Louisville.
WKU also had the same hustle that it showed against the Cardinals that helped overcome the Toppers' downfalls.
"I think both teams played really hard," McDonald said. "I think we're both tired after this one. It was physical and it was everything a college basketball game should be. There were lead changes, great plays and most importantly, there were ten guys on the floor playing hard. I thought it was just a fun game to be around."
Georgia also helped WKU's cause with 21 personal fouls. The Toppers were 18-27 on free throws, with the Bulldogs converting six of 12 free throws.
Georgia coach Dennis Felton is now 1-3 against WKU, whom he coached from 1998-2003. Felton won three Sun Belt Conference championships with the Toppers.
Tonight also pitted Felton against McDonald, his former assistant at WKU and fellow assistant at Clemson, for the first time.
"It's real familiar and strange at the same time," Felton said. "Obviously, great familiarity and fond memories of Western Kentucky, but strange because I'm the opponent. Of course, when you add Ken to it, we're just really, really close. I'm really proud of him. He spent six years helping me as an assistant coach. He's my first assistant to kinda get a head coaching job, so I'm excited about that and I just knew Western got it right in hiring him."
WKU has gotten a few bounces its way in the past three games following a lackluster game at Murray State. The Toppers have also been pretty good in that stretch, though McDonald said he's not worried of peaking too early.
Tonight's game also came just over 48 hours after WKU's win over Louisville on Sunday.
"Come tournament time, I'm confident, no matter what tournament we're in, the Sun Belt tournament or the NCAA tournament," McDonald said. "This is the type of atmosphere that we have to get ready to deal with. We wanted to advance. We've treated these last three days like a survive and advance, yet our aggression level's really good. The guys wanted to win both of these games and we took care of it."
WKU now has a few more days between games, playing at 2 pm Saturday at Tulane.