Notes: Toppers fighting through cold-shooting spell

Senior forward Juan Pattillo lays up against the Memphis defense during the Toppers’ Saturday night away game against the University of Memphis at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., December 4, 2010. WKU lost 77-61.

Zach Greenwell

WKU’s turnover woes have stolen the spotlight in its last two losses.

But sluggish shooting in the first half hasn’t been far behind.

The Toppers shot 26.5 percent in the first half of their 77-61 loss at No. 14 Memphis Saturday night, actually sinking from the 28.6 percent they shot before halftime at Vanderbilt Wednesday.

But senior forward Sergio Kerusch said cold shooting can’t be an excuse for the whole outcome of a game.

“In the game of basketball, shots fall, and shots don’t fall,” Kerusch said. “Effort’s going to have to make up for that.”

Even hustle plays and an improved second half couldn’t undo the damage done by WKU’s slow start against Memphis.

The Tigers made seven more field goals in the first half, claiming a 16-point lead at halftime.

The Toppers only shot 31.4 percent for the game. Senior forwards Juan Pattillo and Steffphon Pettigrew were a combined 4-of-22 from the field.

“Pett’s working really hard,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “He’s probably a little stressed out that he’s not shooting the ball well, but he’s putting a lot of time in and trying to get that stroke back. That comes with time, and that also comes with the fact that when you’re winning, that rim looks a lot bigger.”

The effort was uncharacteristic of Pettigrew, who came into the game shooting almost 50 percent from the field, but it’s something he said he simply has to work through.

“I’ve been in the gym working on it, and my shot looked good in the shootaround and warmups,” he said. “But like every shooter does, I’m going to keep shooting until they fall.”

That resiliency is something Kerusch said the whole team has to have, because someone’s going to have to step up if WKU’s veterans can’t find the nets.

“Our bench is probably going to be one of our biggest keys,” he said. “As you saw today, I was out, Pett was out, and Juan was out, and our bench had to come in and pick up a lot of the slack for a good 10 minutes.”

Drane debuts

Freshman forward Stephon Drane quietly slipped into the game for WKU Saturday, playing his first minutes of the season, but his performance made noise.

Drane totaled four points and three rebounds in eight minutes, netting 4-of-6 free throws.

“It was neat to see the kid go from redshirting to putting up buckets,” Kerusch said. “Drane’s a tough kid. He’s been doing great in practice, and I have much respect and much love for him.”

McDonald said he told Drane before the game that he would play Saturday because of his effort and energy, which were things he said continued to translate against the Tigers.

“He’s really active, he’s really long, and for his first game, I thought he did a great job,” McDonald said. “He’s been excellent in practice, and that’s why I decided to take him out of the redshirt. We think he could help us depth-wise. He’s got great energy and a great attitude, and I love what he brings to the team.”

Bittersweet homecoming

Kerusch had the chance to play in front of numerous family members and friends Saturday, but he wasn’t able to put on the show he had planned.

The senior, who’s from Memphis and attended Overton High School in the city, had his own cheering section in the midst of a Tiger crowd that recognized and heckled him at times.

Kerusch scored a game-high 16 points, but he said he was disappointed for not delivering something more important for his loved ones.

“I had so many people here, it was crazy,” Kerusch said. “Still, the focus wasn’t on my family and friends. It was on getting a win for the Hilltoppers, and I didn’t accomplish that, so I’m going home unsatisfied.”

Kahlil McDonald’s status still uncertain

Ken McDonald said the status of junior guard Kahlil McDonald will be readdressed Sunday after he was left in Bowling Green while WKU traveled to Memphis.

Ken McDonald confirmed after the game that the junior was not serving a suspension, and his status is still fluid.

“We’ll see. We had a good talk before we left,” Ken McDonald said. “He hasn’t violated any team rules or anything like that, but in terms of standards and living up to what we expect, he had a situation that he just didn’t handle correctly. I expect him to come in tomorrow, and we’ll figure that out.”