Tops fall at Troy, drop to 0-3 in Sun Belt for first time in 22 years

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch led WKU with 24 points, but the Toppers fell at Troy Thursday, 82-68. The loss was WKU’s fifth straight, dropping them to 5-10 overall.

Zach Greenwell

After removing the identifying patches from the backs of their jerseys, the Toppers entered Saturday’s game at Troy nameless.

But they left it still winless.

WKU (5-10) blew a 13-point lead in the first half against the Trojans, falling 82-68 at the Sartain Center to drop to 0-3 in the Sun Belt Conference.

WKU hasn’t started 0-3 in the league since the 1988-89 season. The loss was the fifth straight for the Toppers, who haven’t won since knocking off Southern Illinois on Dec. 11.

As of Monday, the Trojans had an RPI of 311 — worse than all but 34 Division I teams — according to Head Coach Ken McDonald has lost in all three of his visits to Troy.

The Toppers controlled the game for most of the first half, pushing their lead as high as 28-15 after two free throws by senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew at the 4:08 mark.

But Troy (3-13, 1-3 Sun Belt) finished the first half on an 11-4 run, climbing within 32-26 at halftime.

The Trojans stayed within striking distance by controlling the boards, an advantage they held for the entire game. They out-rebounded WKU, 54-36, including 23 offensive.

Pettigrew hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, but Troy responded with a 10-2 run that gave the Trojans their first lead of the game at 38-37 with 15:58 left.

WKU still trailed by one with less than 12 minutes left, but Troy rattled off a 20-2 run over the next four minutes to claim a 68-49 advantage with 7:32 remaining.

Troy made 10-of-24 3-pointers in the game, including five during the pivotal run.

The Trojans shot 25 percent from the field in the first half, but finished the game at 39 percent. They were led in scoring by Vernon Taylor’s 20 points.

Guards Will Weathers and Travis Lee combined to make 7-of-10 3-pointers and score 29 points.

WKU is now 0-7 this season when its opponent makes at least eight 3-pointers.

The Toppers shot 38.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over 15 times. They were led by senior forward Sergio Kerusch’s 24 points and 13 rebounds.

Junior guard Kahlil McDonald scored 14 points, and senior forward Juan Pattillo added 11 points and nine rebounds.

All of WKU’s starters played at least 30 minutes. Sophomore guard Jamal Crook, who recorded 21 minutes off the bench, was the only reserve to play more than three minutes.

Senior forward Cliff Dixon, who had started the last four games, did not play. Head Coach Ken McDonald said in his pregame interview with WKU’s Big Red Radio that Dixon has been nursing a wrist injury.

The Toppers will try to climb out of their early conference rut when they host Florida Atlantic at 7 p.m. Saturday.

If WKU falls to the Owls, it will be the first time the Toppers have started conference play at 0-4 since the 1972-73 season, when they competed in the Ohio Valley Conference.