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January 28, 2010

Tops Get Miracle Then Win Stolen Away

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It already took a miracle to even get to this point.

In overtime, senior guard A.J. Slaughter was looking to work the Toppers' second miracle of the night. With 5.2 seconds left, WKU in-bounded from the right baseline corner to Slaughter. He turned to his right, trying to get into the lane, but there was a slap at the ball from his blindside.

North Texas junior guard Josh White knocked the ball away and dribbled out the clock as the visting Mean Green gave the Toppers yet another heartbreaking defeat, 84-83.

"It was kind of a weird spot to in-bound the ball, at that angle," Slaughter said. "I tried to pump fake and he just slipped behind me and got a good steal.

"We just thought we were back on the right track from the Southern Illinois game. To come out and have a disappointing loss, it really stinks."

It was nothing short of a miracle to send the game to overtime. Trapped on the right side in the corner between the sideline and mid-court, junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew leaned through a double-team and heaved a 35-foot desperation three-pointer that hit nothing but net to tie the game at the end of regulation. WKU gained a four-point lead in overtime, before letting it slip away.

"It's very disappointing," Pettigrew said. "It'd be disappointing for anybody. I think we just went away from getting that last stop and we didn't lock in mentally. It hurts but we've just gotta come together as a team. We just sat in the locker room and talked and we've just gotta come out tomorrow and lock in on the personnel and be ready for New Orleans. It hurts to lose at home in front of the fans."

North Texas did a little more than slip the game from the Toppers, with a dominant display in the paint. The Mean Green came away with 50 points there to go along with a 43-34 rebounding advantage

"I don't know if I've ever seen that stat on a stat sheet," coach Ken McDonald said. "That's disappointing. We've talked a lot about guarding the rim, guarding the paint, help defense and we have to embrace that. We're gonna have to have a good defensive unit as a team to really shut teams down."

Much of the onslaught near the basket came in the second half thanks to WKU foul trouble. Senior forward Jeremy Evans fouled out with 3:37 left and Pettigrew and junior forward Cliff Dixon each played the final minutes of regulation and overtime with four fouls apiece, overall putting up little resistance in the lane.

"It's very difficult for any team," Pettigrew said. "We should've just locked in. It's all mentality to get a stop. I think we went away from that."

The losing continues for a proud program that hasn't seen this kind of rut since former coach Darrin Horn dropped the first five games in his first year at the helm of the Toppers in 2003.

But WKU will trudge on, looking to finally right things on Saturday, back at home against New Orleans.

"We just have to keep our heads up, watch the film, learn from it and remember this feeling," Slaughter said. "Just remind us that we need to put our foot down and put a stop to it."




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