Bowling Green, Ky. — Courtney Lee scored a game-best 27 points and Tyrone Brazelton added 17 Wednesday to help lead Western Kentucky University to an 80-62 Sun Belt Conference basketball victory over Florida Atlantic at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Lee added four rebounds and four assists without a turnover while Brazelton handed out a season-high-tying six assists as the Hilltoppers (13-5, 5-1 Sun Belt) won their third straight contest. Jeremy Evans collected 10 rebounds and three blocks to lead all players in both categories, and Steffphon Pettigrew chipped in with a career-best nine boards for WKU, which will return to the road to face SBC West Division leader Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday at 7:05 p.m. (CST) in Lafayette.
WKU held a 19-point halftime advantage mainly in part to the performance of Brazelton and Lee, as the duo combined to outscore the Owls (5-13, 1-6 SBC) by six in the first 20 minutes with 15 points each. That included hitting five of the Hilltoppers’ six first-half three-pointers.
Trailing 16-13 with 12-and-a-half minutes left after Carderro Nwoji connected on a three, WKU broke open the game with a 22-2 spurt over a five-minute and 46-second stretch. Brazelton was a key to that run, scoring nine in a row in a 65-second stretch after A.J. Slaughter gave the Toppers the lead for good on a short jump shot, a layup, a trey and another jumper. When he left the contest with WKU ahead 26-16, Lee took over and scored seven of WKU’s next nine points with two baskets and a three to push the advantage to 35-18 with just over six minutes remaining.
When Brazelton returned, he sank another trey from the left wing with under three minutes left in the half to make the score 40-20. Slaughter answered another Nwoji trey in the final minute with a three-point shot from the right corner for the final points of the period.
Both Brazelton and Lee shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the game as the Toppers outshot FAU, 44.6-39.1 percent. It’s the third time in five contests since New Year’s Day that the opposition has failed to connect on 40 percent from the field against WKU.
“After a slow start, we got it going on the defensive end. We got some turnovers, some easy baskets and some stops — collectively, I thought our pressure bothered them,” said Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn. “One of the nice things to see was that we were better in transition than we have been the last few games, we got out running and made some baskets off the break.”
Ty Rogers — one of three Toppers to score seven points in the game, along with D.J. Magley and Orlando Mendez-Valdez — and Lee knocked down threes in the first minute of the second half to push the advantage to 25, helping WKU lead by 20 or more points until the Owls closed out the contest by scoring the last nine over the final three-plus minutes.
Magley added seven rebounds in 15 minutes, as the Hilltoppers’ 41 boards were the most they have grabbed since recording 44 against nationally ranked Tennessee on Dec. 15.
FAU was led by Nwoji, who posted 19 points while shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range. Paul Graham III was the Owls’ second-highest scorer after collecting seven points off the bench.
Carlos Monroe — who paced FAU in scoring and rebounding entering the contest with averages of 17.1 and 9.6, respectively — did not score until making 1-of-2 free throws with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game. Although he paced the Owls with nine boards, he finished with five points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
Jeff Parmer recorded six points and six rebounds for FAU, with Sanchez Hughley collecting six points and five boards as well.
The Toppers’ 11 three-point field goals were the second-highest total recorded this season, as Lee converted a season-high-tying four and Brazelton was 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Actually, with the effort Lee moved past Brett McNeal into fourth place on the school’s all-time scoring list. His 1,876 points are more than any player has recorded on the Hill since the Toppers joined the Sun Belt prior to the 1982-83 campaign.