Tops surprise with offense in opener

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Ken McDonald put out the warning in the preseason that WKU would be most successful with a strong defense.

But the Toppers apparently have a little offense up their sleeves.

WKU shot 61 percent from the field in a 98-70 rout at St. Joseph’s Friday night, opening the debate of whether the Toppers’ performance was reality or illusion.

But even if the shooting prowess was a one-time display, McDonald said it’s a good place to start the season.

“This is something to build on,” McDonald said. “As a coach, you’re hoping all the things are getting between the ears of the players. They’ve had some good practices this week, and this was a good way to come out in a good environment.”

Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said finding balance would be a priority before the game.

“We’ve got a feel for each other, so we’re just trying to put all the pieces together,” he said. “We want to put together a whole 40 minutes of both defense and offense.”

Pettigrew got his wish.

WKU’s defense held the Hawks to 34 percent shooting. But the offense stole the show, as the Toppers recorded 26 assists and shot 72 percent in the second half.

That number was boosted by senior forward Sergio Kerusch, who made six of eight three-pointers and scored 31 points.

“It was a team effort,” Kerusch said. “I just happened to be the hot hand tonight. It could be anybody on any given night for us, and I was just blessed to have it be my night.”

Kerusch was right about one thing — he wasn’t the only one who produced.

Senior forwards Juan Pattillo and Pettigrew each scored 17, and WKU got a combined 11 assists and three turnovers from its two point guards, junior Ken Brown and sophomore Jamal Crook.

“This is a very versatile team this year,” Kerusch said. “You just have such a high-caliber group of guys, so it’s just an amazing thing that we all came together this year.”

Six newcomers made their regular-season debut against St. Joseph’s. Three of them — Pattillo, Brown and freshman guard Brandon Peters — started the game.

Playing in front of a capacity crowd of 4,200 in Philadelphia was a strong road test for the new-look Toppers.

“We did handle ourselves with a little swagger on the court today, which I like,” McDonald said. “There were a couple times where St. Joe’s was starting to put a little run together, and I thought we responded.”

After losing to Houston and slipping past Wisconsin-Milwaukee in his first two season openers as head coach, McDonald said Friday was a much faster start.

It was such a fast start that McDonald said he quickly huddled up the team after the game to put things in perspective before WKU heads to San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week for the 2010 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

The Toppers play Minnesota at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and if they win, a second-round matchup with North Carolina could be next.

So while he wants the Toppers to be aware of their abilities, McDonald said they can’t afford to get wrapped up in them.

“We’ve got a lot of potential as a team,” he said. “But we’re just scratching the surface.”