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January 31, 2009It may be called a free throw, but for the longest time, WKU couldn't buy one even if it wanted to.
The Toppers were a woeful 18-32 for the game, but down the stretch, they sank 10 of 12 of them. None were bigger than three of four by sophomore guard Sergio Kerusch off of two big defensive rebounds in the final 16 seconds, to propel WKU to a 71-67, come from behind win over visiting North Texas.
"My teammates were just hollering, since I couldn't hit free throws tonight, 'Go get the rebound,'" Kerusch said. "I just went and got the rebound and tried to do my part and just held on to it as tight as I could."
The Toppers' routine was off this week, with the postponement of Thursday's game at Arkansas State.
It may have also been mental after the first few misses.
"I was just thinking in my head and a lot of it had to with that missed game that we had," senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez said. "We hadn't played in a while. I knew our offense was gonna be kinda shaky, because we hadn't been in that kinda game set. You're gonna have nights like that where you can't make free throws. But the thing is, you've gotta keep your composure and keep on believing you can make the next one."
Coach Ken McDonald said he didn't think that the break in routine from the missed game was the biggest reason, however, to WKU's lack of free throw accuracy.
"I don't know if it's the routine, other than, we haven't been getting to the free throw line a lot, to be honest," McDonald said. "We have to be in that situation in the games more. I don't know, just looking, Steff is three for nine. He hasn't been shooting great from the free throw line. Sergio's 5-10, so I'm gonna get on him tomorrow.
"We need to work on those game situations. We need to put our-self in situations where we're getting fouled in the game more."
Through the first half, junior guard A.J. Slaughter had four points, as the Toppers trailed 34-25 at halftime. But, Slaughter found his shot in the second half, hitting six of his seven shots, including 4-4 on three-pointers.
He finished with a game-high 22 points.
"The game got down to crunch time and just me being a leader and my role on this team, I felt like it was for me to take over and make shots and get other guys shots," Slaughter said. "I feel like I did a good job of that tonight and just credit my teammates. They came off a lot of picks and got some shots off."
WKU took its first lead on one of Slaughter's three-pointers with 2:34 left, at 64-62. But the Toppers were able to hang around throughout, thanks to a 34-20 overall rebounding advantage. The Mean Green also had only three offensive rebounds.
"We needed the rebound stop and the bigs did a good job of selling out those monsters down there and A.J. and them were out there battling," Kerusch said. "I just said, 'Let me run in there and do what I do best and jump and get 'em.' When I got 'em, I knew they were gonna foul. I was just trying to make sure I hit the free throws, at least one of them."
Consistent they were not, but Kerusch and the Toppers hit enough when they needed to.
Game one of a four games in one week stretch is over. WKU will be bussing to Jonesboro, Ark. tomorrow to take on Arkansas State at 8 p.m. Monday.