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January 22, 2009Though WKU had led since the early minutes of the game, that lead had dwindled to three points with just 24 seconds left.
Junior guard Anthony Sally hadn't been a factor offensively in the game. After receiving the in-bounds pass, he was fouled and calmly sank two free throws. On the defensive end, Sally then came up big again, knocking a rebound to himself from a Louisiana-Lafayette missed three-point.
Sally's corral capped the game for the Toppers, as they held on to defeat the visiting Ragin' Cajuns 73-68. They may have also been playing through some tiredness in the latter part of the game.
Coach Ken McDonald said he was still pleased with the way his team played through it and came through late. But it all started with early intensity.
"I thought we played a little tired," McDonald said. "I was pretty hard on the guys this week. I thought we needed to improve and I thought, physically and mentally, we needed to get better playing through fatigue in stretches. I was pretty hard on them. I didn't think we had legs a bunch this particular game and I thought mentally, at times, we had a couple of lapses. I thought they were trying, to start the game. We really defended the three early and defended them early. We had them down in the 30's, percentage-wise and then they went on a couple of runs and that confidence factor is a big one."
WKU led by as much as 14 in the opening minutes of the second half, but shooting 40.7 percent after halftime, Louisiana-Lafayette was able to come back. The Toppers shot 56 percent in the first half.
"I thought we played good in stretches," senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez said. "I don't think we did good overall. I don't think we did as good as we wanted to, but a win's a win and especially in conference, against a team like that. They're really talented and have a lot of potential, really can get going and they showed that we couldn't bury them. They kept coming back."
Mendez-Valdez was also a steadying factor, playing 39 minutes.
But there were plenty of positives as well. WKU was relatively balanced, with five players in double figures. Junior guard A.J. Slaughter led the way with 17 points, while junior forward Jeremy Evans added 16 points.
The Toppers also claimed the rebounding edge, at 37-27, with Evans and sophomore guard Sergio Kerusch each finishing with a team-best seven rebounds.
"That's the sign of a good team," Slaughter said. "You've got all guys that can score from every area on the floor. It's hard for teams to scout you when you have a balanced scoring attack like that."
It wasn't pretty at times in the second half, but WKU will take it. The win moves the Toppers to 13-6 and 7-1 in the Sun Belt.
WKU flies to Denver tomorrow, before taking on the Pioneers at 8 p.m. on Saturday.