Richmond, Ky. — Western Kentucky University snapped a week-long offensive slump against rival Eastern Kentucky Saturday, as the Hilltoppers shot 55.2 percent from the floor while making half their attempts from beyond the three-point arc to earn a 77-60 non-conference basketball victory over the Colonels at McBrayer Arena.
Led by a 23-point, seven-rebound effort from Courtney Lee, the Toppers (7-2) picked up their fourth win in as many years over EKU (4-5). Tyrone Brazelton added 15 points to go along with season-best totals of five boards and five assists, with the two combining to shoot 6-of-10 from long range.
“I think we did a good job of attacking, and that was as good as have played inside-out against Eastern Kentucky,” said Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn. “That was a big key, especially in the first half when those threes came off passes from the inside.”
The Hilltoppers shot 61.3 percent from the floor, making 8-of-12 from three-point range, in building an 18-point lead in the opening 20 minutes. Lee hit three treys, while both Brazelton and Orlando Mendez-Valdez were 2-of-2 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Mendez-Valdez posted 10 points and three assists in the contest.
WKU took control of the contest when it held the Colonels to just two field goals in an eight-minute and 18-second span of the first half after Jamaal Douglas gave EKU its final lead, 8-7, with just over 16 minutes remaining. Lee started the 16-5 spurt with a steal that led to a breakaway dunk, and he also sank a three-pointer with 12-and-a-half minutes to go. Steffphon Pettigrew and Brazelton hit baskets on back-to-back possessions to put the Toppers up 18-10 with nine-and-a-half minutes left, while the latter’s three from the top of the key pushed the lead to double digits with just under eight minutes to go.
While Josh Daniel tried to keep the Colonels close, scoring eight straight points, Brazelton connected on a layup and Lee followed with a three-pointer from the left corner after a steal to put WKU up 43-25 with 1:40 left. Lee — who scored 17 points in the opening half — hit another trey in the last half minute to make the score 46-28 at the break.
EKU scored the first five points of the second half to draw within 13 points, which would be as close as it would get the rest of the way. The Toppers responded with eight unanswered points, though, before building the edge to 24, 60-36, with 13:40 to go following a tip-in of a missed shot by D.J. Magley.
The Colonels had one more run left, cutting the deficit to 60-44 with eight straight points from Mike Rose, but Lee’s jumper in the lane sparked a run of three Hilltopper baskets in a minute span to put the game away. Boris Siakam converted two layups in less than 30 seconds, with the second putting WKU up 72-48 with five-and-a-half minutes left.
Siakam scored all seven of his points in the second half.
Not only did the Toppers shoot well overall, they outrebounded EKU 35-20 and held a 42-20 scoring advantage in the paint. Lee led all players on the glass for the first time this season, while Jeremy Evans and Pettigrew each chipped in with five boards — no Colonel had more than four rebounds on the night.
Lee also collected four steals, becoming the 15th player in Sun Belt Conference history to record 200 in a career.
Rose paced EKU with 14 points, but 11 of those came in the second half for the Colonels’ leading scorer entering the game. Daniel finished with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and Douglas collected 10 points. Adam Leonard led all players with six assists, but he was 0-of-7 from the field with six of those shots coming from three-point range.
Overall, the Colonels shot 42.6 percent from the floor after making 9-of-24 attempts (37.5 percent) over the final 20 minutes.
WKU has a week off before facing nationally ranked Tennessee in the Sun Belt Classic in Nashville on Dec. 15. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. (CST) after Middle Tennessee plays Memphis.