On paper, the challenger didn't appear to be too much of a threat. But for much of the first half at least, the challenger hung right in and trailed by only seven at halftime.
But in the midst of everything finally coming together in the second half for the home team, the designated go-to-guy, junior guard A.J. Slaughter started to piece things together as well.
As freshman guard Dejan Cvoro led a fast break off a defensive rebound, he made a quick pass to Slaughter, running the right side of the floor, who then made a touch pass to the trailer, sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew for a dunk to put WKU up 67-45 with 7:28 left.
Then later, with the shot clock running down, Slaughter nailed a deep three with 3:08 left to give the Toppers an 81-53 cushion. His 19 second half points pushed WKU to an 83-60 late coast over visiting Alabama A&M.
"At the start of the game, we weren't playing the basketball that we normally play, with the high energy on defense and being aggressive on the offensive end," Slaughter said. "It was kinda just laid-back and being passive. I think we picked it up going into halftime and took the game away."
Slaughter finished with a game-high 24 points. He also was an efficient 8-10 from the field.
"I've just been attacking more late in the game," Slaughter said. "In the early part of the game, I'm just trying to get my teammates involved and just getting everybody touches. Tonight, I was a little passive on the offensive end. I had shots that I normally take, but I was just trying to get other people involved."
The Bulldogs held tight through most of the first half, as the score was tied six times. The game also saw nine lead changes, all in the first half.
But as the Toppers heated up, Alabama A&M cooled off. The Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the floor in the first half, just 33.3 percent in the second half. WKU meanwhile, shot 59.3 percent from the floor in the second half, compared to 44.4 percent in the first half.
"(We) probably had a little over a half at a good level," coach Ken McDonald said. "I think Alabama A&M did a good job mixing up some defense and we just didn't respond. Our guards, the upperclassmen in particular, we didn't respond to recognizing it and putting us in the right sets to go against what they were doing. We adjusted, as it went on. At the end of the half, I thought we adjusted a little bit. I thought in the second half, we did a good job being more aggressive. We were standing around a lot in the first ten minutes and I wasn't happy with that, but I'm happy we ended the game like we did."
Though the game was in hand for nearly all the second half, the Toppers still got quality contributions from their bench, with 21 points.
"We're just trying to have guys come off the bench to have a lot of energy, just come in and help the starters out," senior forward Mike Walker said. "Just play with a lot of energy and keep the flow of the game going. I think we're doing pretty good."
There were a few smiles to go around for WKU in the second half. On that late three-pointer to beat the shot clock, a wry smile came across Slaughter's face when he got to the other end of the basketball court. He also briefly raised both hands as if he wondered himself how the better half and the shot came about. But then, it was back to business, or in this case defense.
The Toppers are taking the next three days off before they resume practice Christmas night. They travel to Miami for the Orange Bowl Classic, to take on Florida State at 3 p.m. Dec. 27.