New Orleans — While Western Kentucky University’s game at New Orleans Wednesday featured the two top scorers in the Sun Belt Conference, only one received a balanced effort from his teammates. That, along with a defensive performance that limited the league leaders in field-goal accuracy 12 points below their season mark, ultimately led to victory for the Hilltoppers.
Courtney Lee scored 19 points, while Jeremy Evans added a season-best 17 points and game-high seven rebounds to lead WKU to a 73-55 win over the Privateers at the Human Performance Center.
The Hilltoppers (15-5, 7-1 Sun Belt) held UNO to just 34.7 percent shooting in the contest, which included an 0-of-10 performance from beyond the three-point arc. The win extended WKU’s season-long streak to five in a row.
Bo McCalebb paced all scorers with 21 points, with 15 of those coming in the second half. But only Kyndall Dykes — who posted 17 points — managed to record more than one field goal for the Privateers (14-6, 4-4 SBC).
On the other hand, Tyrone Brazelton supplied a season-high nine assists to go along with eight points, D.J. Magley collected seven points and six rebounds, and Mike Walker added six and five, respectively, off the bench. And, Orlando Mendez-Valdez was credited with four assists and no turnovers while scoring six points.
“This is a terrific road win against a team that has a great player, good guards and is very good at home,” said WKU head coach Darrin Horn. “They score 76 points a game but have 55 tonight, don’t make a three and have only four assists against 11 turnovers. The stats don’t always tell the story, but tonight I thought they told a big part of it. Defensively, we were outstanding.”
The Toppers shot 56.4 percent from the field overall, making 7-of-16 from long distance, and they held a 38-24 edge on the glass. Only five of their 16 turnovers came over the final 20 minutes.
WKU was up six points at the half, a lead that would never be less than three despite not hitting a field goal in the opening four-and-a-half minutes of the second half. Ty Rogers ended that drought with a three, and when Walker followed up with a layup the Hilltoppers led 38-30 with just over 14 minutes remaining.
Following a McCalebb layup, Dykes scored six straight points for the Privateers to cut the deficit to 41-38 with 12:13 to go. WKU responded with an 11-0 run over the next two minutes and 38 seconds, however, to put the game away. Both Lee and Mendez-Valdez hit multiple shots during that stretch, which ended with a Walker layup.
The Hilltoppers took an early lead with an 11-4 run to start the contest, then spent the rest of the half holding UNO at bay. WKU scored six early points inside with two baskets from Evans and another following an offensive rebound from Magley before Lee connected on a layup and a three-pointer from the left wing.
Another three-pointer by Lee pushed the advantage to 18-8 with 11:16 to go, while Walker’s alley-oop dunk from Mendez-Valdez capped an 11-0 spurt as WKU led 22-8 with just under 10 minutes left.
The Privateers would get as close as five points before the break, but A.J. Slaughter connected on a pair of threes in the final two-plus minutes to help the Toppers take a 32-26 edge into the locker room. WKU shot 51.9 percent in the first 20 minutes while limiting UNO to a 36.4 field-goal percentage, but the Privateers stayed in the contest by forcing 11 turnovers and visiting the foul line 15 times.
They would finish the game making 21-of-26 free throws.
“We knew that free throws were going to be an issue, they have a knack for getting to the foul line. When they shoot 26 free throws, it makes defense that much more important,” Horn said. “For them to make 21 free throws and only score 55 points tells you that we really guarded at a high level.”
UNO’s field-goal percentage dropped to 33.3 percent after the break, as its 17 baskets were the fewest allowed by the Hilltoppers this season.
Evans — who had not scored in double figures this season — finished 8-of-9 from the floor, while Lee was 8-of-11 shooting including a 3-of-4 performance from long range. Slaughter finished with six points after sinking 2-of-3 three-point attempts.
The Hilltoppers return home to face Arkansas State Sunday at 2 p.m. (CST) in the first of three straight games at E.A. Diddle Arena over a six-day span.