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February 11, 2010

Courtney Lee On Hand For 79-68 Tops Win

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Just over four minutes into the game, the Diddle Arena crowd had already erupted.

He wasn't announced, but when former Topper and New Jersey Nets forward Courtney Lee walked out of the tunnel and stood next to the WKU bench, the crowd stood and cheered.

The Toppers on the court couldn't acknowledge him because they were in the middle of play. But they knew he was there.

Afterward, they mentioned Lee as a motivating factor in WKU's 79-68 win over Arkansas State.

"It gave the building a little energy," senior guard A.J. Slaughter said. "You always want the crowd into it and you've got a dude like that rooting for you, you always wanna play your best and go out and play hard for him."

Slaughter played with Lee during his freshman and sophomore years with the Toppers. The senior finished with 21 points, but he had help as well. Junior forward Sergio Kerusch made his first start since WKU's win against Vanderbilt and finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.

"I loved it, just the energy," Kerusch said. "I wanted to help start the game off with energy. Of course, being in the first couple of minutes is crucial. I just thank Coach Mac for trusting with that duty."

The Toppers trailed early at 2-0, then 5-4, but never trailed again. They built a lead of 15 at 7:41 media timeout and though the Red Wolves cut into it slightly, WKU never lost track.

"It's important because of confidence," coach Ken McDonald said. "We had a lot of respect for their team.

"From a confidence standpoint, I'm happy about us finishing the game. We've had problems with leads and keeping leads. At times, we extended the lead, which we like to see. That's part of progressing towards the end of the year and understanding that you wanna be playing your best basketball going into the conference tournament."

It's still a tough test for the Toppers to climb back into the Sun Belt Conference race, but at 14-12, they're not realistically out of it.

"Every game's a must win for us," Kerusch said. "We're playing like our backs are against the wall and nobody likes that. That's when everybody's at their best. We're just going out there and playing as hard as we can and leave our heart on the floor like we used to last year. It's do or die time."

Lee left just after halftime, but he'd already provided enough inspiration with his presence. Slaughter has kept in touch with Lee since Lee graduated in 2008. But tonight, Lee gave a jolt to everyone, including Slaughter.

"That guy's one of the best players to ever play here," Slaughter said. "He's got a lot of fan support and a lot of people look up to him."




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