Finn’s career night helps Arkansas State send WKU to 0-1 in Sun Belt

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch scored 25 points at Arkansas State Saturday, but he was overshadowed by the 30 points Trey Finn dropped in for ASU. The Toppers’ 81-73 loss sends them to 0-1 in the Sun Belt.

Zach Greenwell

Arkansas State came into Saturday shooting just 32.5 percent from 3-point range.

But no one must have told Trey Finn that.

Finn, a sophomore guard, made 7-of-9 3-pointers against WKU (5-8, 0-1 Sun Belt Conference), scoring 30 points to help the Red Wolves take an 81-73 win at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark.

“You’ve got to give the other team credit,” senior forward Sergio Kerusch told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “They shot the heck out of that ball. But we have to do a better job as a team of defending.”

Kerusch had a solid game himself — scoring 25 points — but it was overshadowed by a red-hot ASU (6-7, 2-0 SBC) that shot 58.8 percent from behind the arc.

Finn came into the game with a career high of 14 points. That previous benchmark was shattered Saturday, and Kerusch said the effort fell on the Toppers’ defense.

“Our guards have to get better at defending the 3,” he said. “Arkansas State shot 10-of-17 from the 3-point line, and I take some of those on me personally, but we have to get better at defending the 3 ball.”

WKU lacked one of its best defensive guards Saturday, as it was announced before the game that freshman Brandon Peters is academically ineligible for the rest of the season.

With Peters absent, the Toppers relied much more heavily on sophomore Jamal Crook and junior Kahlil McDonald.

Crook got the start at point guard, finishing with eight points, five assists and just one turnover.

“He took a few quick shots, and that’s something he’s got to understand — who’s got the hot hand when you’re running a team,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said of Crook. “He also let a few people get by him and got tired at times, but I’m proud of what he gave us.”

WKU jumped out of the gates with a strong start, taking a 15-5 lead at the 15:38 mark of the first half.

But ASU pulled within one during a four-minute span in which Finn scored the Red Wolves’ next 12 points, and they took their first lead of the game after a put-back dunk by Jeremy Thomas with 4:52 left in the half.

ASU took a 40-39 lead into halftime and opened it to 50-43 with a 10-4 run to start the second half.

WKU pulled tight several times in the second half, but the Red Wolves always seemed to have an answer.

A 3-pointer by Kahlil McDonald got the Toppers within 57-55 with 11:23 remaining, but Finn immediately answered with a long-range shot of his own.

“We just have to go back to the fundamentals,” Kerusch said. “We need to sit down and guard, guard, guard. The offense will be there. With this team, someone’s going to be hot, so we just have to defend.”

WKU pulled within five with 30 seconds left, but senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew missed an open layup, and the Toppers failed to grab a rebound on a missed front-end free throw by ASU.

They cut their deficit to 77-73 with 13 seconds left, but ASU made four free throws to close it out.

WKU shot 45.7 percent from the field but went to the free throw line just six times and made three. The Red Wolves finished 15-of-20 from the charity stripe.

Kerusch made 11-of-16 shots in the game, tossing in his largest scoring output since posting 31 points in the season opener at St. Joseph’s.

The Memphis, Tenn., native had a large fan group in the crowd, and he said he came into the game “confident and cocky.”

“The team was good at giving me the ball,” he said. “Every time it touched those fingertips, it was going up.”

Senior forward Juan Pattillo added 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench, including 14 points in the second half. Pettigrew finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Kahlil McDonald had eight points and four assists, giving him and Crook a combined nine assists and three turnovers. That was a ratio that pleased Ken McDonald, especially in the first game without Peters.

“(Crook) stepped up. They both stepped up,” Ken McDonald said. “Now we need everyone to step up.”

Martavius Adams and Donald Boone had 12 points and 10 points for ASU, respectively. They each grabbed eight rebounds.

The slate that WKU metaphorically wiped clean after the Louisville loss takes its first blemish now, as the Toppers fall to 0-1 in conference play.

They return home against Denver at 7 p.m. Thursday, and Kerusch said doesn’t want to see any more missteps.

“Our chemistry’s gotten better, our turnover-assist ratio has gotten better, and we’re close,” he said. “I’m getting excited because we’re almost where we need to be. Some teams lose one in conference and go on a run and don’t lose again, and I hope this is one of those teams.

“I think this is one of those teams, and we’re going to make it one of those teams.”