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 isn’t the way a home career should end, but Mike Walker gets tech’ed up for a slight altercation with Carlos Monroe. Though the game is in hand late, it’s not the best way to go out. Nick Gagel makes 1 of 2 FTs for the Owls. Monroe makes both his FTs as well.
An update, Evans has yet to play, and I doubt we see him because the game is pretty much over.
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.
Mike Walker, who said to have 25 family and friends in attendance, just got his jersey and is accompanied by his parents. He got a good ovation. Orlando Mendez-Valdez by far got the loudest ovation from the crowd, which is deserving due to all that McDonald has said and all the heart that he has put into the program, especially in this year of transition. The senior video, accompanied by a Lupe Fiasco track, highlighted the seniors’ brightest moments. The emotion wasn’t as high as indicated in the press conference on Tuesday, but nonetheless a fitting tribute to four senior who have made this season one of raised expectations. The game is set to tip off shortly, and I’ll be keeping you updated as everything unfolds.
So after a game that should’ve been a blowout from the beginning, coach Ken McDonald gave some remarks that he believes the game went exactly as it should’ve, with the talent that FIU possessed. Golden Panther head coach Sergio Rouco had some compelling thoughts on the state of WKU basketball. Both coaches were hoping to see each other again in the Sun Belt tournament. Now a few more thoughts from the game:
-We start again with the bench. McDonald went to his bench early with the intention of keeping his starters rested against a shallow-but-strong roster of forwards for Florida International. It worked in the first half, forcing the guards to penetrate and take contested long-range shots, but late in the second half, the reserves showed their weaknesses. After only managing three points in the first half, they improved on that by one, scoring four in the second half, losing the bench scoring battle 21-7 to FIU. The other reserves must find a way to contribute, though. Sophomore forward D.J. Magley and senior forwards Japeth Aguilar and Matt Maresca combined for just seven minutes, two points and two rebounds.
-Even though the scoring was dry, a few reserves played valuble minutes. Senior forward Mike Walker contributed what were his best minutes in a month, with a rebound and an assist in 12 minutes, but it was his ability to push FIU forwards Russell Hicks and Freddy Asprilla out of the paint and make them take altered shots that made him valuable. Junior guard Anthony Sally scored six points, pulled down two boards and dished out two assists in 22 minutes in place of senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez and junior guard A.J. Slaughter. Despite a down game against Troy, Sally has been coming along with setting up the offense and knowing when to push the tempo. His play off the bench will be key in the grueling three-games-in-three-days format in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
-Something that has to satisfy McDonald is the play of Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew. Though they have been consistent contributors all season, the game was an off night for Mendez-Valdez and Slaughter, who combined to shoot 6-for-22, including 0-for-11 from three, for 18 points. The duo of Pettigrew and Kerusch combined for 15-for-28 shooting for 43 points and also combined for 20 of Western’s 42 rebounds. It has to make McDonald happy to see other players are able to step up, especially in an athlete-dominated league like the Sun Belt, in case the team leaders aren’t having their best games.
-For eight minutes in the first half, junior forward Jeremy Evans left the bench. McDonald said it was for a “bathroom break” but also to clean up his bleeding upper lip. It shouldn’t affect his status for the rest of the season.
- Arkansas State may not be the only opponent the Toppers face on this trip. The icy weather may become a factor in when tip-off is, based on the fact that conditions are not any better as Western heads southwest to Jonesboro, Ark. The weather has already forced the movement of the Lady Toppers’ game to right before the men’s game Thursday. Head coach Ken McDonald said the team has not given it a lot of thought, but it is something they will have to consider on the six-hour drive.
- McDonald talked about the team being able to finish in late-game situations, pointing out the recent late-game, five-point swing at Denver that gave the Pioneers momentum. Sophomore forward Steffphon Pettigrew echoed that sentiment, saying that more intense practices are helping cure that problem. Look for more on this subject in Thursday’s Herald.
- Once again, a big issue was depth. McDonald said that he is calling on senior forwards Mike Walker and Japeth Aguilar, as well as sophomore forward D.J. Magley, to make contributions off the Toppers’ already-thin bench. McDonald said all three players are coming along well in their progression. Walker has come back from tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament last season against South Alabam,a and Aguilar has battled foot and lower leg injuries since his arrival on the Hill. Magley has been the victim of his own foul trouble this season, but at times has shown the promise that he did last season. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as we go along.
Judging by this game, Western vs. Middle Tennessee should be a great race to the SBC East title–maybe even better than last season’s between the Toppers and South Alabama.
A few nuggets, good and bad, from the game:
- Though neither team played well offensively (a combined 29 turnovers), a great finish helped make up for it. Both team were able to keep up manageable shooting percentages–Western shot 42.9% compared to MTSU’s 43.6%.
- I’m starting to wonder whether or not this so-called “experiment” with Dejan Cvoro starting over Sergio Kerusch is permanent. Cvoro got his sixth straight start, and Kerusch is thriving off the bench as a sixth man. Cvoro’s learning curve will be faster, and Kerusch can give that already-thin bench some much needed help.
- Kerusch also continues to be a double-double machine, posting 15 points and 10 boards in the win, his fourth double-double of the season. Jeremy Evans also pulled down 10 rebounds paired with five points.
- Despite a thin bench, Western got one of its best outing from the reserves, holding a 20-9 scoring edge over the Blue Raiders.
- The Toppers have shown they know how to win close games so far this season. Western has won four of six games decided by 10 points or less, and when coach Ken McDonald’s technical and subsequent free throws left them in a 47-41 hole, the Toppers were able to go on a 9-0 run and retake the lead.
- The woes continue on Western’s depleted bench. Sophomore guard D.J. Magley continues to put himself in a hole early in the foul column (three fouls in six minutes), and senior forwards Japeth Aguilar and Matt Maresca combined for zero points off zero shots two rebounds in 14 minutes. If the Toppers want to be a postseason team, one of those players, or senior forward Mike Walker, has to start contributing better minutes off the bench.
- New Orleans comes in ranked 11th in the SBC in scoring offense, but fourth in scoring defense. Western swept UNO last season and currently hold a five-game winning streak over the Privateers (8-9, 3-4 SBC West Division) dating back to 2004.