Anchorage, Alaska — Western Kentucky University didn’t have much time to rebound from a three-point loss to the 14th-ranked team in the country. But, led by a pair of guards, the Hilltoppers accomplished the feat and will now play for fourth place at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
Courtney Lee scored a game-high 28 points and A.J. Slaughter added 14 Friday to help lead the Hilltoppers to a 71-67 men’s basketball victory over host Alaska Anchorage — the 16th-ranked squad in this week’s NCAA Division II polls — at Sullivan Arena. After holding off a late rally from the Seawolves, WKU will face Michigan at 5 p.m. (CST) Saturday in a contest for fourth place at the three-day tournament.
UAA (2-2) will take on Eastern Washington in the first game of the day.
“They have a terrific coach and a really nice basketball team. Because of that, we knew coming in that this would be a tough game,” said WKU head coach Darrin Horn. “We were coming off an extremely emotional loss in a tough game that we felt we played well enough to win and didn’t come out on top, so we knew today was going to be a challenge. I’m really proud of the way our guys played and responded to that challenge against a good team at home in a tournament.”
The Hilltoppers (4-1) led by double digits on several occasions in the second half, the last time after Boris Siakam grabbed an offensive rebound and found Matt Maresca underneath the basket for a layup that made the score 67-57 with 3:05 remaining. Carl Arts — who led the Seawolves with 20 points and nine rebounds in the contest — connected on a pair of baskets as UAA scored eight unanswered points over a two-minute and 32-second span to draw within two points.
Lee sealed the game, though, when he was fouled after receiving the inbounds pass and sinking two free throws, while Tyrone Brazelton added two more foul shots nine seconds later after a UAA turnover for WKU’s final points.
Lee finished 11-of-15 from the floor, and he converted all four attempts at the free-throw line to lead the Toppers in scoring for the fifth straight contest. He also grabbed three rebounds, handed out three assists and recorded two steals.
Slaughter was the only other Hilltopper to finish in double figures after scoring 10 of his 14 points after the intermission. He also equalled a career high with four steals — WKU was credited with 10 thefts as a team, as 21 UAA turnovers led to 19 points on the offensive end for the Toppers.
His three with just over nine minutes to go put WKU up 55-45, and after the Seawolves scored five straight points to cut the lead in half Slaughter canned another trey, this time with 6:40 to go.
UAA held the lead for the last time when McCade Olsen scored twice in a 23-second stretch, with the second basket making the score 37-36 with little more than 16 minutes left. Maresca answered with a three-pointer from the top of the key 17 seconds later, though, with his first points of the season sparking a 14-3 spurt by the Hilltoppers. Ty Rogers hit another three at 15:07, Lee sank a three-pointer from the corner less than a minute after that while Siakam’s dunk with 13:13 remaining pushed the advantage to 47-37. Rogers’ second trey of the half with 12-and-a-half minutes left put WKU ahead 50-39, capping the run.
Actually, after Olsen’s second score, the Seawolves made just two field goals over the next 10 minutes, going 2-of-7 with four turnovers while falling behind by double digits.
“We had some leads and the home team found their way back in it, but at the end of the game we found a way to come out on top,” Horn said. “That was what was most important tonight.”
Siakam posted seven points, a game-best-tying nine rebounds and three assists — which also matched his previous career high — and Jeremy Evans chipped in with seven boards as the Toppers outrebounded UAA 34-25. Brazelton paced the team with four assists, while Orlando Mendez-Valdez added three assists and two steals.
The Hilltoppers were 8-of-16 from three-point range, and they attempted 16 more total shots than the Seawolves.
Lee put together a 19-point performance in the opening half, going 9-of-12 from the floor as the Toppers would take a 34-29 lead into the break. WKU jumped out to a 10-4 advantage in the opening three minutes as he scored the team’s first seven points. And, when the Seawolves opened up a seven-point edge, 20-13, with 11 minutes to go, Lee scored two baskets in less then two minutes as part of a 12-5 run that evened the contest three-and-a-half minutes before intermission.
The teams traded baskets, then Mike Walker hit the front end of a one-and-one to give WKU its first edge in over 11 minutes, 28-27, with 2:30 to go. Lee followed with a steal and a dunk as part of a 7-2 spurt to close the half as he scored the Hilltoppers’ final six points of the opening period.
WKU forced the Seawolves into 14 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
After its slow start, UAA recovered and used a 16-3 run to build its largest lead of the game. There were three ties before Jeremiah Trueman’s layup with 13:16 remaining gave the Seawolves their first advantage at 13-11, while after D.J. Magley knotted the score 42 seconds later with a layup they scored the next seven points capped by a three-pointer from the right wings from Kevin White.
Arts had eight points and four rebounds in the first half to keep UAA in contention — the Seawolves overcame a six-rebound advantage on the glass for the Hilltoppers by converting 52.6 percent from the field and making all six free throws prior to the break.
Olsen also finished in double figures for the game, collecting 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while Chris Bryant made all three of his attempts from beyond the arc en route to posting 11 points. Luke Cooper led all players with 10 assists.
UAA shot 52.4 percent from the field and 75 percent at the foul line, and it was 5-of-12 from long distance.