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January 18, 2010Sign-up for InsideHilltopperSports.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
MURFREESBORO, Tenn.- He's come up big in this exact same situation so many times.
Senior guard A.J. Slaughter in-bounded the ball at mid-court with 6.4 seconds left in the game with WKU trailing by one. He got the ball in to senior forward Jeremy Evans, who passed the ball back.
But the shot wasn't there.
With the clock ticking down, Slaughter managed to get the ball to senior guard Anthony Sally in the right corner. His desperation heave fell well short and out of bounds in an ugly shot that typified the night.
There was nothing pretty about either team. Middle Tennessee just happened to be a little less ugly. The Blue Raiders blew a 13-point second half lead, but held off a late rally by the Toppers for a 47-46 win.
"I kinda fumbled the ball and Sal was the only man I could see," Slaughter said. "I tried to force it to him and it didn't fortunately work out in our favor but we'll live to play another day."
The win was MTSU's first in its last seven tries.
It couldn't have gotten much worse for WKU in the first half. After Sally hit a three at the 16:11 mark, the next Toppers field goal didn't come until Evans hit a jumper with 4:43 left.
WKU shot 21.1 percent in the opening stanza.
"At the end of the game, you look back at where we lost the game and it's not the last play, it's not the last couple of minutes, it's definitely in the first 30," coach Ken McDonald said. "I think you give the other team a lot of confidence if you're not playing hard and at a high level, especially on the road. You have to bring that kind of enthusiasm and energy that goes into winning on the road and understanding that you're gonna get a good basketball game from teams even struggling like Middle Tennessee."
The second half didn't begin much better than the first ended. The Toppers got down by as much as 13 points before they finally started making a run.
WKU tied the game and eventually took a 46-44 lead. But the Toppers turned the ball over as Sally lost the handle with the shot clock running down and 17 seconds left. Middle Tennessee then took the lead for good on a three-pointer at the top of the key by junior guard James Washington.
WKU shot just 34.1 percent for the game and was out-rebounded 37-32.
"We've just gotta come out and throw the first punch," junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. "The first four minutes is the most important part of the game. Like you saw in the last ten minutes of the game, we played hard, dived for loose balls and we've just gotta come out with that passion and intensity for the game."
It was an equally horrid night for both teams. Slaughter was the first to admit it.
"A lot of it had to do with our end," he said. "There wasn't a lot Middle Tennessee was doing. We didn't come out and play with that passion and that energy."
After travelling to Troy on Thursday, the Toppers will have just a few days to pick that energy up as Middle Tennessee visits Diddle Arena on Saturday.
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