Bowling Green, Ky. — Courtney Lee recorded a career-high 33 points Sunday, adding five rebounds and three assists to help lead Western Kentucky University to a 77-68 Sun Belt Conference basketball win over Arkansas State at E.A Diddle Arena.
After Ryan Wedel’s three with 5:21 remaining cut an 18-point Hilltopper advantage to 60-57, Lee hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions in scoring 10 of WKU’s final 17 points. He would finish 9-of-15 from the floor, including making 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, as the Toppers improved to 16-5 overall and 8-1 in the Sun Belt with their season-high sixth straight victory. Lee did not commit a turnover and also blocked a shot in 33 minutes of action.
Wedel paced the Indians — who fell to 9-11, 4-6 in the SBC — with 23 points, six assists and five rebounds, as he shot 5-of-9 from three-point range.
“It was not the prettiest of wins, but it’s also good to get a victory in conference play,” said Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn. “We got a couple of keys stops when we needed them, and I thought Courtney stepped up and made some big plays after they cut the lead down in the second half.”
Lee hit a pair of treys in the first two minutes after the break to build the WKU lead to 48-31. That advantage would grow to 18 on a Jeremy Evans jumper with 15-and-a-half minutes to go before ASU began its comeback.
Kewain Gant, who finished with 16 points, converted a jumper to cap an 8-0 spurt that made the score 56-46 with just under 12 minutes left. He and Tyrone Brazelton would trade two more baskets before Wedel’s jumper with little over eight minutes remaining sparked a string of seven consecutive ASU points. When Wedel banked in a three from 25 feet out with 5:21 to go, it made it a three-point margin.
Lee answered, though, with a three from the left wing 30 seconds later, and he sank another shot from beyond the arc after Shawn Morgan’s layup for a seven-point Topper edge with four minutes remaining. Evans hit a layup and Lee added two free throws at 3:14 to push the lead back to double figures, 70-59, as the Indians would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
ASU shot 64.3 percent over the final 20 minutes, ending the contest hitting at a 50.9-percent clip while making 7-of-14 three-point attempts.
It was the second of two first-half runs that put the Indians in a hole, as they shot just 36 percent in the opening period after missing their last three attempts in the final two minutes following Mike Lance’s three-pointer that made the score 29-26 WKU with 2:30 to go. The Hilltoppers would use a 13-1 spurt to close out the half for a 42-27 advantage at the break, as Brazelton collected eight points during that stretch with a three-point play, two free throws and a three from the left wing just before the buzzer.
He ended the half with 14 points, finishing with 20 overall as well as a team-best four assists. Lee chipped in with 13 in the opening period as well, including two free throws and a three from the left corner for the other points during that run.
WKU was up 10-9 when Lance — who collected eight points and six rebounds — completed a three-point play with just under 12 minutes remaining in the first half before it built a double-digit advantage with a 13-2 run. A.J. Slaughter sparked the spurt, which covered three-and-a-half minutes, with a three-pointer before Lee scored two baskets in a 42-second span. Ty Rogers and Boris Siakam each hit layups that gave the Hilltoppers a 23-11 edge with 7:19 left.
The Toppers would connect on 57.1 percent in the first half, scoring 18 points in the paint. For the game, WKU would shoot 53.1 percent from the field as well as 70.8 percent at the foul line while making 15 more trips to the free-throw line than the Indians. The Hilltoppers also finished with a 30-24 rebounding advantage.
Evans was 4-of-4 from the floor to score eight points, and his five boards matched Lee for game-high honors. Siakam also was perfect from the field, collecting six points on 3-of-3 shooting.
The Toppers will next be in action when they play host to UALR. Tip-off Thursday at Diddle Arena is slated for 7 p.m. (CST).