North Texas routs WKU, ends Toppers’ tournament run


Juan Pattillo is fouled on a shot against George Odufuwa of North Texas. WKU lost the game, 81-62, and was eliminated from the Sun Belt tournament.

Jonathan Lintner

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — WKU carried a boatload of hope into the second half of its Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinal against North Texas.

Problem was, the Toppers couldn’t hit an ocean if they tried.

WKU (16-16) shot 9-of-28 from the field in the second half and went on to lose, 81-62, to North Texas (22-10) in Summit Arena.

So ends another season in the semifinal round of the tournament that WKU won in 2007 and 2008.

Head Coach Ken McDonald called it an “unacceptable” finish, but the third-year coach said it’s important to note how the Toppers bounced back from a slow start.

“It’s unacceptable for our program, and we will be back,” McDonald said. “But where this could have gone — at 5-11, the other way — to think about what could have happened obviously says a lot about the team.

“They didn’t pout. They didn’t do anything but put their heads down and get better, and we had a lot of games in the right column at the end of the day.”

Senior forward Juan Pattillo, who led WKU with 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Mean Green, said he “doesn’t believe in fatigue,” and said it didn’t factor into a second half where the Toppers were out-scored, 41-23.

“The three seniors — we’re in pretty good shape — so I doubt it’s fatigue,” Pattillo said. “Sometimes you just don’t hit shots. It’s part of basketball. We had pretty good looks, but sometimes that’s how it goes.”

Monday marked the Toppers’ third game in three days.

Four WKU players combined to shoot 6-of-26 from 3-point range, with senior forward Sergio Kerusch accounting for four of those baskets. Kerusch finished with with 16 points and seven rebounds.

In his last collegiate game, senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew was held to seven points and seven rebounds on 3-of-11 shooting.

“It really hurt us to go out the way we did, but for the seniors and the rest of the team, we left it all out there,” Pettigrew said. “From day one, we left it all out there on the court — me, Juan and Serge.”

WKU trailed North Texas 40-39 at the half despite the Mean Green’s blistering first-half pace.

Senior guard Tristan Thompson finished with 28 points to lead all scorers, but 18 of those came in the game’s first 10 minutes.

North Texas ran out to a 10-point lead at 30-20 with more than 10 minutes to go. The Toppers stormed back on a 15-2 run of their own to lead 35-32.

Then the second half started, and WKU’s shots stopped falling.

The Mean Green never trailed during the final 20 minutes and led by as many as 21 points with 1:04 to go in the game.

Senior forward George Odufuwa scored 16 points and had a team-high nine rebounds for the Mean Green.

McDonald said WKU struggled to control North Texas’ guards during the second half, as senior guard Josh White broke out to score 14 of his 18 points.

“You’ve got to force your will on guys, and I’m not sure we consistently did that over the course of the game,” McDonald said.

WKU’s seniors — Pettigrew, Kerusch and Pattillo — scored 161 of the Toppers’ 209 points during the three tournament games.

Despite that, McDonald said he sees a “bright future” for the program.

“I know these guys that are coming in, along with who we have returning, we’re going to get to work right away and continue to work with them individually and get them ready to raise the bar,” he said. “This was not atypical of what a Western Kentucky basketball team is going to be like.”


Pettigrew’s final game was his 136th as a Topper, which is second all-time at WKU…Monday marked the first time WKU has lost to North Texas in the Sun Belt tournament. The Toppers were 3-0 coming into the game…Kerusch came up a point short of being the 39th player in program history to score 500 points in a season.