Notes: Uncharacteristic turnovers plague Toppers in Vandy loss

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch dives for a loose ball with Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor. WKU committed 16-first half turnovers on Wednesday night and lost, 82-62, at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium.

Zach Greenwell

NASHVILLE — One play said it all.

WKU (3-4) had a 3-on-1 fast break in the second half at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, with junior guard Ken Brown leading the charge.

Brown decided to throw a no-look pass into the corner, and it sailed into a sea of Commodore cheerleaders.

That was one of 22 turnovers that cost the Toppers dearly in its 82-62 loss, many of which left Head Coach Ken McDonald scratching his head.

“We had very, very careless turnovers for no reason,” he said. “I didn’t think Vanderbilt had some incredible pressure defense. We were just throwing the ball away like it didn’t mean anything, and that’s disappointing. There’s a lot of things to look at on tape and try to figure out, ‘Why?'”

The Toppers had six turnovers in the first four minutes and 16 by halftime. If not for two late baskets before the break, WKU would have ended the first half with more turnovers than points.

“We turned the ball over a lot, and that led to a couple guys putting their head down,” senior forward Juan Pattillo said. “We didn’t recover, and we didn’t want it bad enough.”

The Toppers came into the game averaging just over 15 turnovers a game. After surpassing that in the first half Wednesday, they contained themselves to six in the second half.

But even then, senior forward Sergio Kerusch said the ones they had after halftime were demoralizing.

“We had a few more turnovers, and those heads went right back down,” Kerusch said. “It’s just a learning experience.”

Pushing the right buttons

McDonald said he doesn’t think he should ever have to teach effort or mental focus, but those are the things he finds himself coming back around to after the Vanderbilt loss.

“We’ve done it in spurts, so I know it’s there,” he said. “We’ve got to develop that sense of team and that sense of passion. If we’d lost the game and played hard, I wouldn’t have nearly as much of an issue as I do right now.”

Kerusch said he saw the same shortcomings on the court, representing a step back after an encouraging peformance against South Carolina.

“The word there was toughness,” Kerusch said. “They out-toughed us, and that’s the bottom line. They were going strong for rebounds, diving for balls, pushing people out of the way. We had really little intensity and effort.”

McDonald said he “hates that it takes time” to change the mentality of a team, but with seven newcomers, that’s the reality of it.

He said he’s been patient to this point, but he’s starting to grow tired of harping on the same intangibles over and over again.

“When you do get a so-called punch in the mouth, you do have to be able to respond,” he said. “You can’t have kids hanging their head. Some of those kids are freshmen, some are new at this level, but we’ve talked about this enough and actually done a lot better things in practice. So to say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”

Memphis bound

The Toppers have just two days to prepare for a trip to No. 14 Memphis on Saturday, but McDonald said the Tigers were distant in his mind Wednesday night.

McDonald said Memphis will be a difficult test, but that the WKU players are their own worst enemies right now.

“This is one of those times where I’m not as worried about who we’re playing,” he said. “I’m more worried about where we are as a team in terms of playing hard and doing some of the things we need to do fundamentally.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Saturday in Memphis. The game will be a homecoming for Kerusch, who attended Overton High School in the city.

Every game is important for WKU, especially right now, but Kerusch said he’d like to get things back on track in his hometown.

“I’m going to try to do the best I can … and rise myself above the regular expectations,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a team sport, not an individual effort. We’ve got to do whatever we can to win.”

Extra notes

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook returned to action Wednesday, playing seven minutes after missing the South Carolina game with a hamstring injury … Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who had scored in double figures in 13 straight games, scored just four points … The announced attendance in Memorial Gym was 13,577.