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January 17, 2009Though the visitor had played valiantly and led through the latter part of the first half and the beginning of the second half, it suffered the deciding backbreaker with 1:01 left.
Coming off a curl from the left corner, junior guard A.J. Slaughter found himself wide open at the top of the key. Squaring himself up, he sank a three-pointer that gave WKU a 64-58 lead.
After New Orleans had cut the lead to two with 4:33 left, WKU went on a 14-6 run and pulled away 70-60.
"I think it showed a lot about our team, coming off a big win at Middle two days ago and coming out and playing with heart," Slaughter said. "It was hard for us to play, kinda fatigued a little bit, but we found a way to win at the end of the game."
Following their down to the wire victory over Middle Tennessee two days earlier, the Toppers came out sluggish. But thanks to eight three-pointers, they came right back. The Privateers meanwhile, went 0-7 from three-point range.
"I think we did a good job of running at them and making them make second plays and not giving them wide open looks," Slaughter said. "In the past, we've been bad at three-point percentage shooting, so I think we did a good job of running at them and making them put it on the floor and make other guys make plays off the dribble."
Fulfilling the role coach Ken McDonald had intended, sophomore guard Sergio Kerusch was a spark-plug off the bench. Though battling a groin injury, he still skied for 11 rebounds and finished with 18 points.
"It's still hurting, "Kerusch said. "If the team needs you, I just go in and rebound and do what I can only. It's been re-aggravated a little bit, but I've got four days to rest, so hopefully it'll get better."
Kerusch was also the brunt of a few jokes, after missing a wide open dunk in transition that bounced out mid-way through the first half.
"Hey, that dunk was almost in there," Kerusch said jokingly. "He judo chopped me in the stomach."
Slaughter led WKU with 19 points, which included a pair of three-pointers in the last minute of the first half to keep the Toppers close, trailing 30-26 at halftime.
Sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew finished with 15 points, while senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez added 13 points.
With MTSU's 70-65 loss at Arkansas-Little Rock, the Toppers are now in first place in the Sun Belt Conference.
"The guys have done a great job, a phenomenal job of buying into the system," McDonald said. "We've taken some licks. There's no question. There's been times in the season that we could've put our heads down and we haven't. We've been pretty resilient actually, in that regard, coming back and getting victories after a letdown and it happens. That happens with any team.
"It's a team effort. The guys are doing great. We're gonna continue to have the attitude that we're gonna dominate this conference. That's just our attitude. You can say it's arrogant or cocky, but we really wanna be in first all the time. I really believe this team has the kind of heart, that we're not gonna give it up easily."
WKU will next host Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. on Thursday.