Turnovers strike again in WKU’s 77-61 loss at No. 14 Memphis

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch grabs a loose ball during the first half of the Toppers’ Saturday night game against the University of Memphis at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., December 4, 2010. WKU lost 77-61.

Zach Greenwell

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WKU’s effort improved on Saturday night.

But by the time the Toppers put down their shovels, the hole they’d dug themselves into was already too deep.

WKU (3-5) had 16 turnovers in the first half for the second straight game on its way to a 77-61 loss to No. 14 Memphis in front of 17,171 at the FedEx Forum.

The loss was the Toppers’ fourth straight since a comeback win over Hofstra in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

“We spotted them a lot of points with just the careless turnovers,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “There was definitely more effort. The guys did some really good stuff in terms of energy … but you go into the half with 16 turnovers, and you’re spotting the team points.”

The Toppers had just two assists with their 16 turnovers in the first half, and they shot 26.5 percent before halftime. They only turned the ball over four times in the second half, but by that point, it was already too late.

“This is a game that we pretty much lost for ourselves,” senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. “Having 16 turnovers in the first half — you can’t have 16 turnovers against a team like this.”

The Tigers (7-0) proved that they can capitalize on opportunities, turning WKU’s miscues into 20 points.

The Toppers outrebounded Memphis, 43-41, but the Tigers had 12 blocks and 11 steals.

“You can’t allow teams to come out and be that confident after eight minutes because of us shooting ourselves in the foot,” McDonald said. “That’s stuff that we can control. As we learn that over time, we’re going to be better.”

Senior forward Juan Pattillo netted two free throws at the 16:33 mark of the first half to give WKU a 7-5 advantage, which would be its last lead in the game.

Memphis followed with an 11-1 run and finished the half with a 14-4 burst to take a 47-31 lead into halftime.

A jumper by freshman guard Will Barton extended the Tigers’ lead to 20 with 16:28 left in the game, but WKU took a stand with a quick 12-0 run.

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch had six points during the charge, including a layup with 13:06 left to pull the Toppers within 53-45.

But Memphis always seemed to have an answer. Wesley Witherspoon broke the run with a dunk, and after another basket by Kerusch, the Tigers took their lead to double digits again with a 6-0 streak.

WKU was never able to cut the deficit lower than eight again.

“We fought,” Kerusch said. “We fought back from 16 at half to eight, and we actually gave ourselves a chance to take the ballgame home. Effort-wise, you saw a lot of heart, and I think everyone gave a lot.”

The Toppers didn’t shoot a much better clip in the second half, finishing the game at 31.4 percent from the field. They made just 4-of-18 3-pointers and missed nine free throws.

Kerusch led all scorers with 16 points and also had eight rebounds.

Pattillo had six points and 12 rebounds, but he was just 1-of-10 from the field. His lone field goal of the game didn’t come until there were less than seven minutes left to play.

McDonald said that opponents are beginning to scout Pattillo as a player that attacks the basket, and that the senior’s going to have to start adjusting as things get clogged in the paint.

“Now Juan’s looking at two or three defenders trying to get to the rim,” McDonald said. “He’s still getting to the rim, but it’s tough. This was an athletic team that didn’t give up plays and challenged him at the rim. He’s got to learn his spots to give other guys shots and make the other team pay for sagging so much.”

Junior guard Ken Brown had 10 points, but he also had six turnovers. No Topper had more than one assist.

“It’s just glitches,” Kerusch said. “Everybody’s trying to find their role, and at the same time, we have young guards. We just have our guards trying to find their place in our offense. It was a hard-paced and a fast-paced game, and we had a lot of turnovers early.”

The turnovers spoiled the hustle plays made by WKU, including its 25 offensive rebounds. Despite giving itself so many extra chances, it only equated to 21 second-chance points.

Memphis shot 48.3 percent in the game and was led by freshman guard Joe Jackson’s 15 points. D.J. Stephens had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Tarik Black had 11 points.

After averaging 15 turnovers per game in their first six games, the Toppers have totaled 42 in their last two contests.

It’s a trend McDonald said WKU has to get under control before traveling to Bowling Green State at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

While the effort drastically improved from the Vanderbilt loss, McDonald said hustle plays don’t mean as much when you waste the opportunities they provide.

“We’ve got to understand that we don’t have to try too hard to play one-on-one,” he said. “Our point guards have just got to settle down at the beginning of the game. They’re going into the first four-minute timeout with a couple turnovers each, and they’re really careless ones that can be corrected. But they keep occuring.”