WKU lives to play another day with the 66-48 victory over FIU (a score that was much more convincing than what most media members, including yours truly, thought it would be). After the game, the press conference gave me a few more good quotes and facts that are worth mentioning. I just sent my story through, so check WKUHerald.com here in a few for the game story.
- After the game, senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez gave his Player of the Game award to sophomore forward D.J. Magley, citing his contributions: three points, seven rebounds and only one turnover in 15 minutes. “I really think his minutes he played were really key,” Mendez-Valdez said. “He came and defended and held Freddy (Asprilla) to eight points. I mean, that counts for all the bigs. But I thought he had key rebounds and good decisions, passing back out or taking it when he had it. He was just playing really well. I strongly believe that he deserved it.”
- With his 18 points, Mendez-Valdez became the 42nd player in WKU history to surpass the 1,000 point plateau.
- You have to wonder what the bench is going to do. I know it’s like beating a dead horse, but when the horse is Secretariat, it matters. Magley and Anthony Sally (22 minutes, two points, four rebounds, one assist and three turnovers) played solid minutes, but the bench only contributed nine points, and after those two, the next biggest contributor was Matt Maresca, with six minutes and three fouls. A team can go seven-deep and last, but only for so long. And it isn’t been more than six-deep the entire season, sometimes only five-deep. This was a good start, but to win the tournament, they will have to have this on a consistent basis.
- An otherwise big bright spot was the Toppers’ ability to score in the half-court and rely on their set plays and grind-it-out possessions. WKU only had two fast break points (holding FIU to none) and won the points in the paint battle 26-20 against a sizeable FIU front line that was noticably bigger. Being able to rely on their trademark transition game, like they have all season, makes it a lot easier to play at any pace. When faced with a slow down team like Middle Tennessee State (which could be their next opponent), that can pay dividends.
- WKU is now 18-9 all-time in quarterfinal match-ups in the Sun Belt tournament.
D.J. Magley came in after the last 30-second timeout and has been effective on defense, staying straight up and down and denying MTSU any good shots down low. He was called for over-the-back on offense, but on the next WKU possession, leading scorer Desmond Yates was called for his second foul. MTSU coach Kermit Davis is keeping him in, but I have a feeling he won’t be as aggresive for the rest of the half.
Kerusch has gotten off to a great start offensively. He just made another three for nine points in the game. On the other side, the MTSU offense is cold. Maresca just took a charge and the reserves are really contributing for WKU.
-Just got word that Orlando Mendez-Valdez went down with a sprained knee and he will return in the game.
The tempo has slowed down, and MTSU’s 2-3 zone has somewhat halted the Topper offense. WKU keeps its man-to-man defense, and despite MTSU getting to the rim, the posts are getting position and forcing MTSU to take tough shots. Matt Maresca replaced Evans at the 15:09 mark, and Anthony Sally replaced Mendez-Valdez shortly after. Mike Walker came in for Steffphon Pettigrew and was called for an offensive foul, but the subs seem to be handling the MTSU starters well. The Toppers are moving the ball well around the perimeter and getting good open shots in mid-range. There just haven’t been many of them due to Blue Raiders closing out well.
-Currently the MTSU crowd is going nuts over the Domino’s Pizza “Delivery of the Game.” I’m not a fan of Domino’s, but it sounds good right now.
This one is pretty much a forgone conclusion, as McDonald is subbing out the seniors to get their standing ovations and cheers of “thank you seniors” are ringing out. Maresca got his first double-digit rebound game as a Topper, with four points and 10 rebounds.
FAU has come out all guns blazing in the second half, opening with a couple of threes and lay-ups to make the game a contest. But the Toppers are getting an unexpected boost from Maresca. He’s got four points and a board in the second half alone to go along with a charge in the first three minutes.
The boost worked, pushing the lead back out to 20. The ball pressure has increased for FAU as WKU continues to use three-quarter court pressure. The turnover battle is 4-4 in the second half.
WKU starts out in a 2-3 zone, and it’s having sparing success. The seniors are making the most of their time so far. Japeth Aguilar got the opening defensive rebound, and after a Matt Maresca offensive board off a Slaughter miss, Mike Walker scores. An Orlando Mendez-Valdez three knotted the score, and an Aguilar jumper from the left baseline made it 7-5 WKU.
The seniors were subbed out at the 17 minute mark, except for Mendez-Valdez. He subbed out following a foul with Anthony Sally in. A Slaughter three makes it 12-7. The Toppers stay in the 2-3 zone, but the ball continues to get into the paint. Another Slaughter three makes it 15-9 going into the first media timeout.
Japeth Aguilar came out with his mom and dad, and Matt Maresca is getting a standing ovation from the hometown fans.