Toppers Hang On In Final Minutes, Earn Four-Point Win Over Michigan

By: Brian Fremund, WKU Athletic Media Relations
By: Brian Fremund, WKU Athletic Media Relations

Anchorage, Alaska — The help came from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of experience, but it was enough to lift Western Kentucky University to its second victory in as many days at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.

After Michigan cut a 14-point second-half deficit to five with almost seven minutes to go senior Courtney Lee scored seven straight points to stifle the rally, and when the Wolverines made it a two-point game in the final minute freshman D.J. Magley came up with an offensive rebound and put-back basket that allowed the Hilltoppers to pull out a 73-69 men’s basketball victory at Sullivan Arena. With the win, WKU (5-1) finished fourth in the eight-team field.

The Wolverines fell to 3-3 after going 1-2 in the four-day event.

After Lee — who had been held scoreless in the second half until the seven-point outburst — helped slow down the UM comeback, the Hilltoppers pushed the advantage back to eight points with 2:20 to go following two free throws from both he and Magley. Manny Harris made 1-of-2 foul shots and went coast-to-coast for a dunk around a three-pointer from DeShawn Sims as the Wolverines cut the lead to 71-69 with 43 seconds left.

When Tyrone Brazelton’s driving layup came off the rim, Magley tapped it back in one motion four seconds before the buzzer to clinch the win.

Lee and Magley were the only two Toppers to score in double figures, recording 22 and 18 points respectively. In addition to making 8-of-9 shots from the floor to post the highest scoring total in his first six games on the Hill, the latter also grabbed a career-best five rebounds to pace the team in that category as well. Lee was also credited with four steals.

“I’m really proud of our guys. It was our third game in three days in a tournament setting, and our third challenge facing a completely different style than anything we’ve seen to this point this year without any special preparation time to attack it,” Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn said. “We came out and were very aggressive early, which I thought was good. Obviously we weren’t that good in the last five or six minutes, but that’s just something we have to continue to get better at.

“This was a really good win against a Big Ten team that, when they enter conference play and get used to that system, is going to beat some people.”

WKU controlled the second half of the opening period, as they were trailing by one with just over 10 minutes to go before Steffphon Pettigrew’s layup sparked an 8-0 run. Orlando Mendez-Valdez — who paced all players with a season-best six assists — keyed the stretch, which lasted two minutes and nine seconds, as he made a steal that led to a Magley layup before hitting a three-pointer from the top of the key for a 28-20 edge.

The teams traded scores over the next two-and-a-half minutes, but after Harris sank two free throws to pull the Wolverines to within six, 34-28, at 5:21 the Toppers used an 11-2 burst to break open the contest. Lee scored five of his 13 first-half points during that span as three other players contributed in WKU extending to a 45-30 lead a minute before intermission.

Actually, the Hilltoppers led for all but two minutes of the contest beginning with an 8-3 run in the opening 84 seconds in which Lee converted a pair of three-point field goals. After falling behind 15-10 following Jeremy Evans’ dunk, UM scored eight of the next 10 points to gain its first advantage — Ron Coleman scored six in a row before Harris made two foul shots.

Harris was 6-of-7 at the free-throw line before the break for 12 points, but WKU made two-thirds of its shots in building its edge. The Toppers would go on to shoot a season-best 57.4 percent overall.

Harris matched Lee for game-high honors after collecting 22 points to pace the Wolverines, finishing 14-of-19 at the charity stripe, while adding eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Sims chipped in with 16 points, Zack Gibson scored 11 and Coleman added 10.

UM cut the Topper advantage to single digits on three occasions early in the second half, but WKU always had an answer. Boris Siakam had a dunk, Brazelton hit a layup and Magley scored underneath as the lead was still 14, 58-44, with 12 minutes to go. A Ty Rogers offensive rebound and layup at 9:42 made the score 60-48, but the Wolverines got back into the game with a 10-2 spurt that began and ended with threes from Jerret Smith.

Those would be Smith’s only points of the night.

Brazelton collected nine points and four rebounds, including scoring seven in the first half as WKU opened up its advantage. Rogers had seven points and Mike Walker scored six, making 3-of-4 attempts from the field.

The Hilltoppers will now have a week off before returning to the road to face Northern Arizona Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CST).

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