Tops break six-game losing streak with win at South Alabama

Junior guard Kahlil McDonald scored a career-high 15 points, and WKU picked up its first Sun Belt victory with an 84-75 win at South Alabama Thursday. The win was WKU’s first in 40 days.

Zach Greenwell

It didn’t end up being dominant or flashy.

But for the first time in 40 days, WKU got the job done.

The Toppers (6-11, 1-4 Sun Belt Conference) opened a 24-point lead in the second half at South Alabama Thursday, then weathered a late comeback by the Jaguars for an 84-75 win at the Mitchell Center in Mobile, Ala.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Head Coach Ken McDonald told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “That was probably one of the better halfs of basketball that we’ve had in the first half, and we looked poised to continue the lead early in the second. I’m actually glad they made a run.

“We had to show what we were made of to finish the game out the way we needed to.”

The win was WKU’s first in the Sun Belt this season, as well as its first victory since beating Southern Illinois on Dec. 11.

“It was good to come in and get a win, period,” senior forward Sergio Kerusch said. “Everybody contributed all the way down the line, so it was just a good game. We’re excited for one night.”

The Toppers were plagued by 21 turnovers in the game, but they shot 56 percent from the field and turned in one of their most balanced scoring efforts of the season.

Four WKU players finished in double figures, led by Kerusch’s 20 points. Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew had 19 points, and junior guard Kahlil McDonald scored a career-high 15 points with four 3-pointers.

Senior forward Juan Pattillo had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Toppers maintained a small lead through most of the first half before finishing it on a 20-4 run over the final eight minutes. That burst gave them a 42-23 halftime lead, an advantage they stretched to 24 at the 15:17 mark of the second half.

But South Alabama (7-10, 1-5 SBC) pulled back within 67-56 with a 16-5 run. Martino Brock hit two 3-pointers during that span and finished the game with 17 points after scoring just six in the first half.

The Jaguars’ “big three” of Brock, guard Tim Williams and center Augustine Rubit were held in check for most of the game, although Williams eventually scored 13 points, and Rubit finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“We talked a lot about taking out their big three,” Ken McDonald said. “With that kind of effort, it takes a lot of pressure off your offense, and you can go out and have some confidence.”

A jumper by Gary Redus closed South Alabama’s deficit to 73-68 with 3:44 left, but WKU put a stop to the comeback with a flurry of free throws.

Despite shooting 59 percent from the free throw line coming into the game, the Toppers made 19-of-22 Thursday.

WKU out-rebounded the Jaguars, 36-23 and had 14 assists —10 of them from Kahlil McDonald and sophomore guard Jamal Crook.

“Our guards are driving more,” Kerusch said. “We’re getting in the seams and not settling for 3-point shots anymore. We just want to draw two and give up a good shot for the best shot.”

WKU now has a quick turnaround, hosting Troy at 7 p.m. Saturday in Diddle Arena.

“It’s a chance to come back and build on what we’re doing,” Ken McDonald said. “It’s one game, and we’ve got to take care of it.”

The Toppers fell 82-68 at Troy a week ago after holding a double-digit lead in the first half. But after riding a big lead to the wire Thursday, Kerusch said they don’t plan on making the same mistake twice.

“We had a nice little lead and coughed it up in the second half,” he said. “The taste always stays in your mouth. We just want to come out and play ferociously.”