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January 16, 2010Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
After it became just a one-point lead for WKU, at 23-22, the Toppers pushed the gas pedal down just a bit more.
So it came as no surprise that, with the final seconds ticking away in the first half, senior guard A.J. Slaughter didn't settle for a drive to the basket for two. He lined up and nailed a three-pointer from the left wing with five seconds left.
On the ensuing in-bounds, freshman guard Caden Dickerson, tapped on the pedal more, coming up with a steal under the basket and a layup as the buzzer sounded. That close game turned into a 38-22 halftime lead for the Toppers.
But WKU wasn't done. The Toppers built as much as a 34-point lead and cruised to an 81-64 win over visiting Florida International.
"That shows just what we're capable of and what happens if we play on the defensive end like we're supposed to and come with that energy and intensity every night," Slaughter said. "Just killing other teams' confidence right before halftime is also huge. I think that was the storyline of the game, just making that big run before halftime."
From the 3:45 mark in the first half when WKU led 23-22, the Toppers went on a 37-4 run.
"It shows us that we're coming together and getting stops like we want to," senior forward Jeremy Evans said. "Just coming out, punching 'em the first four minutes, if we continue to do that, we'll be alright."
Lost in the big night was junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew leading the way with 16 points. It was easy to lose sight of the individual effort with WKU's overall team-effort, though if coach Ken McDonald had it his way, the lead would have grown even more.
"It always helps with confidence," he said. "We didn't finish it out right, but I wasn't gonna let that take away from a very good win and some improvement on our end. We talked about, if we improve from this point out and if we get consistent from the starters to the bench, we're gonna be a real good basketball team by the end of the year. I thought the guys were pretty locked into that thought."
The big lead throughout much of the game allowed McDonald to rest his starters more towards the end of the game. Taking the most advantage was junior forward Cliff Dixon, who finished with ten points and 13 rebounds in another big night off the bench.
For much of the early season, McDonald has nudged Dixon to have a bigger impact in the post with his 6-foot-10 height, rather than on the perimeter.
"I'm getting used to (the post)," Dixon said. "I've still got a lot of work to do. I let people push me out and I fade away from a lot of my hook shots. That's something I've gotta work on in practice, so I'm gonna get to it."
Because of the mass, accelerated effort at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, Slaughter was among those players who could rest and watch from the bench in the game's final minutes.
Slaughter, who averaged 36.7 minutes per game entering tonight said he was grateful for the rest. After playing Thursday and tonight, the Toppers play at rival Middle Tennessee on Monday.
"It's great just to sit back and watch the guys that really don't get a lot of time, just watch them and encourage them to do good," Slaughter said. "It's really our first game this year where we actually got to do that. That's always great to just sit over there and rest our legs. We got a quick turnaround, so that was pretty good timing."
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