Tops overcome 13-point deficit with four minutes left to beat Hofstra

Zach Greenwell

WKU didn’t show signs of life against Hofstra until the game was almost over Friday night, but its arrival came just in time.

The Toppers (3-1) overcame a 13-point deficit with 4:08 left in a consolation game of the 2010 Honda Puerto-Rico Tip-Off, sneaking past Hofstra 62-60 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

WKU trailed 52-39 with four minutes remaining but ended the game on a 23-8 run.

“It’s good to be on this end of it,” Head Coach Ken McDonald told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “The guys fought really hard. We didn’t hang our heads, we stayed confident, everybody made a play to turn it around. I was really proud of the way we finished it out.”

The Toppers’ 23 late points in the comeback were more than they scored in the entire first half. Hofstra went into halftime with a 24-21 advantage.

“I’ve been through some games where we had to come back down the stretch, but nothing like this,” senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. “It was a crazy game, and I’m just glad we came out with a win.”

WKU will play Davidson in its third and final game in Puerto Rico at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

The Pride (1-2) had 14 turnovers in the second half, including five in the last four minutes of the game.

That was when WKU ratched up its defensive pressure with a full-court press, gaining some extra possessions.

“Our backs were against the wall then, and we had a lot of energy,” McDonald said. “You could see the guys up front with the trap had a lot of energy, and I wish they would have done it earlier. It would have made it an easier night on the coaching staff — a little less stress.”

The first half was a product of two big runs — the first a 12-3 burst by WKU to give it a 16-8 lead with 10:34 remaining.

But Hofstra responded with a 16-5 run to close out the half, reclaiming a three-point lead at the break. The Toppers scored just two field goals in the final 10 minutes of the frame, and Pettigrew and senior forward Sergio Kerusch combined for just four points.

WKU shot 35 percent in the first half and also turned the ball over nine times.

“We weren’t making shots,” McDonald said. “Serge had a bunch of shots that he’s normally making or at least coming close — we weren’t even close on a lot of those. We’re not pass-faking enough, and they had way too many deflections in the first half.

“That can get you off your confidence, and we were more aggressive in the second half.”

But WKU’s offensive woes didn’t end directly out of halftime.

The Toppers scored just six points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and a 15-4 run by Hofstra gave the Pride its largest lead of the game at 48-34 with 5:18 left.

Hofstra junior guard Mike Moore made a free throw to give his team a 52-39 lead with four minutes left. Then suddenly, WKU came to life on both ends of the court.

A 9-2 run brought the Toppers within six, and a 3-pointer by junior guard Kahlil McDonald cut the deficit to 57-53 with 1:37 left.

Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins answered with a spinning jumper in the lane, but Kahlil McDonald knocked down another 3-pointer to make it 59-56.

“Our coaches kept telling us to stay together and everything would work out,” Pettigrew said. “After we got the turnovers and started pressing, things started turning around. We started hitting the open guy for the open shot, and they started falling.”

After a free throw by the Pride, sophomore guard Caden Dickerson buried a 3-pointer in the corner to pull WKU within 60-59.

Freshman guard Brandon Peters got a steal on the ensuing in-bounds pass and finished the play with an easy layup, which proved to be the game-winning basket for WKU.

“We pressured out, and we got a little tired and a little lazy at the end,” Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said. “They made a couple 3’s. We really didn’t allow them to do that all night, and they got some shots late in the game, and they got a little bit of confidence.”

Senior forward Juan Pattillo added one free throw with eight seconds left, and Hofstra’s final shot rattled off the rim.

The comeback victory makes the Toppers 1-1 in Puerto Rico after a 95-77 loss to Minnesota Thursday night.

“This game showed a lot for our team and showed that we’re not going to give up at the end,” Pettigrew said. “Last night, we didn’t fight in the second half, so we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth.”

Jenkins, who scored 24 points in Hofstra’s loss to North Carolina Thursday, led all scorers with 27 points. Moore had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Pattillo led the way for WKU with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Pettigrew had 12, Kerusch added nine, and Kahlil McDonald had nine points on three 3-pointers.

Sophomore guard Jamal Crook, who started for the first time this season, didn’t score but had six assists with two turnovers.

“We’re still trying to find our identity and we’re still searching with some roles,” Ken McDonald said. “There are a lot of things that go into building a team as the year goes on. Right now, guys’ feelings are a little hurt because of playing time or being pulled out really quickly, but you have to get through that as a team.”

WKU shot 47 percent in the second half, finishing at 42 percent for the game. Hofstra shot 40 percent and outrebounded the Toppers, 41-35.

WKU’s next opponent Davidson beat Nebraska, 70-67, in its consolation game Friday.

The Wildcats (1-2) made 11 3-pointers in that game. They’re led by Brendan McKillop and De’Mon Brooks, who each average 13 points per contest.

It was a dramatic way to get a win for the Toppers, but Ken McDonald said finding a way to rebound from a sluggish showing against Minnesota makes the outlook for their trip much better.

“I wanted our energy to be better in the second half with our body language, and it was,” he said. “The guys were really trying. It was way better energy than yesterday. We still have some habits to get better on, but we had some real positives tonight.”