Notes: Crook’s career night brings energy to Tops

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook takes free throws while WKU’s student section cheers him on in the first half of their home game against Troy. Crook played for 20 minutes and finished with eight points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Zach Greenwell

Sophomore Jamal Crook has yet to take full ownership of WKU’s point guard position this season, but he made his best case Saturday night.

Crook totaled eight points and career highs in assists (9) and rebounds (8) in just 20 minutes off the bench, earning praise from Head Coach Ken McDonald.

“Jamal was terrific tonight — just outstanding,” McDonald said. “The best I’ve seen him since I’ve known him. It’s good to see him confident. It’s good to see him making plays.”

Crook has started just five games this year, backing up a slew of point guards that included Ken Brown, Brandon Peters, and most recently, junior Kahlil McDonald.

But Crook said a reserve role doesn’t bother him as long as he produces when he’s on the court.

“I love Kahlil playing,” he said. “He gets it going, and then I can come in and bring energy up a notch. I think it’s good. Whatever situation that I’m in, I don’t have any problem coming off the bench if I have to.”

Ken McDonald said he also likes the dynamic that Crook and Kahlil McDonald provide, as well as the way they complement each other.

“Kahlil’s maturing as well on the job,” he said. “He’s a two-guard that’s playing the point. He’s making better decisions, and Jamal gives us great energy off the bench. He gives us a running game more, and he’s continuing to get better defensively. It’s two different guys.”

WKU may have become even thinner at point guard Saturday, as walk-on freshman Mike Gabbard went down with a foot injury and was on crutches later in the game.

But Ken McDonald said Crook’s big game is a good sign of things to come.

And just to keep the sophomore, who will turn 23 this year, in line, McDonald added a wisecrack to his compliments.

“He’s coming into his own. He is like 28,” McDonald said with a grin. “He’s like the oldest sophomore ever in the history of college basketball, and we bust him up about that a lot.”

Kerusch on the rise

After being tabbed as the Preseason Player of the Year by the Sun Belt Conference, senior forward Sergio Kerusch dealt with his fair share of struggles early in the season.

Ken McDonald said Kerusch often struggled with maintaining focus, but the senior’s concentration has improved since conference play began.

He’s averaging more than 20 points per game in six Sun Belt contests and has recorded a double-double in four of the last five.

His 25 points and 10 rebounds led the way for WKU on Saturday night.

“There’s no way I could go out by myself and get 25 and 10,” Kerusch said. “It’s a team now, and it’s not an individual by any means. We’ve bonded. We’re individuals, but we do it collectively. We do what we do to win, and that’s just an amazing feeling.”

Ken McDonald said Kerusch’s deference to teammates and indifference to stats shows growth — growth he’s been waiting to see for a long time.

“That’s a sign of maturity,” McDonald said. “He’s really been trying to do a good job of being locked in the last three weeks, and he’s played his best basketball by far of the year.”

Has Kerusch played well enough to possibly claim Player of the Year honors at the end of the season? McDonald said that’s hard to tell, but that he is doing everything WKU needs at the moment.

“He’s playing to his potential,” he said. “I wouldn’t say he’s playing to Player of the Year. I really don’t have any idea who’s doing what in conference other than the next scout. He is playing to what he can do. He’s limiting his mental mistakes on the offensive end, he’s playing harder defense, and that’s all I’ve asked him to do.”

Fans fill the seats

After two straight home games that produced crowds below 3,000 fans, the announced attendance in Diddle Arena Saturday was 3,802.

That’s still a far cry from the 7,326 fans that attended WKU’s game against Louisville on Dec. 22, but McDonald said he was still pleased.

“I thought it was great before the game,” McDonald said. “I noticed the size of the crowd before the game, and I think it says a lot about the fan base. That’s one of the reasons that makes this place so great. Our players appreciate it.”

The crowd got loud several times throughout the night, providing standing ovations for players like Crook and Kerusch.

“I know the fans appreciate when you have hustle plays and when you look like a team,” McDonald said. “I think that’s all they’ve ever wanted, to be honest, and the guys are doing that.”

Extra notes

Crook’s nine assists were the most by a Topper this season … Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew’s 12 points moved him into 16th place on WKU’s all-time scoring list … The 19-point win was the Toppers’ largest victory since a 22-point win over Alabama A&M on Nov. 15.