Bowling Green, Ky. — An 11-0 run over three-plus minutes in the second half broke open a close contest, as Western Kentucky University outscored UALR by 26 points after the break Thursday en route to a 71-47 Sun Belt Conference victory over the Trojans at E.A Diddle Arena.
A.J. Slaughter scored seven of his season-best 17 points during the spurt, punctuating the run with a one-handed tomahawk slam dunk as the Toppers (17-5, 9-1 Sun Belt) went from a five-point advantage to a 53-37 lead with 8:16 remaining. He and Courtney Lee — who posted a team-best 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting — later combined to score seven in a row to push the edge beyond 20 points with less than six minutes to go as WKU cruised to its seventh win in a row.
Tyrone Brazelton chipped in with 14 points and four assists, and Orlando Mendez-Valdez added 11 points, three assists and three steals for the Hilltoppers, who shot 53 percent — including making 6-of-10 from beyond the arc — while limiting the Trojans (14-7, 6-4 SBC) to just 5-of-24 shooting in outscoring them 46-20 over the final 20 minutes.
De’Andre Eggins had game high totals of 22 points — the most he has scored this season — and seven rebounds to pace UALR, but no other Trojan had more than six points.
The Toppers will close out a three-game homestand Saturday at 7 p.m. (CST) against Denver as they look for their fifth straight victory over an SBC West opponent.
“Without question it was a tale of two halves. I think defense was a key for us, it changed the tempo of the game,” WKU head coach Darrin Horn said. “Obviously, making shots makes a big, big difference. We really made some important shots after getting a stop, which got our guys going.”
After scoring six points in the first half, Lee sank a pair of treys in the first minutes after the break, with the first giving the Toppers the lead for good. Slaughter’s jumper at 12:50 extended the WKU edge to 40-33, but the teams traded scores until he was fouled with just under 11 minutes left and made both free throws to start the run that broke open the contest.
Slaughter, who hadn’t reached double figures in the scoring column since recording 13 points in the Hilltoppers’ Sun Belt opener at Troy Dec. 29, was 5-of-8 from the field including 3-of-4 from three-point range. He also finished with three rebounds and two steals.
Mendez-Valdez was 4-of-6 shooting, also hitting three threes, and Brazelton shot 50 percent from the floor as well.
It was the first time this season that WKU has overcome a halftime deficit.
The Trojans led most of the opening half, but needed a 7-0 spurt over the final 2:43 to take a 27-25 advantage into the intermission. Eggins — who came into the contest averaging 8.3 points per game but scored 16 without missing a shot before the break — closed out the period with a tip in of a missed shot and a short jumper. The Toppers missed three shots and turned the ball over three times after Mendez-Valdez’ basket with three-and-a-half minutes left gave WKU its largest lead of the period, 25-20, while also ending a 7-0 run.
Brazelton converted a three-point play and Slaughter connected on a pair of free throws as the Hilltoppers actually outscored UALR 12-2 over a four-minute and 11-second stretch. Brazelton and Mendez-Valdez would combine to score 15 points in the first 20 minutes.
Eggins’ first three of the half opened up a 13-6 UALR lead with 13-and-a-half minutes to go, while his second trey made the score 18-13 at 7:43. He added four rebounds prior to the break as well.
In last year’s contest, a two-point Trojan win in Little Rock, Eggins scored 23 points — still his career high — on 8-of-12 shooting while grabbing six boards.
While he would connect on 7-of-14 attempts from the floor, the rest of the Trojans combined to go 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) — UALR would finish the contest shooting 29.4 percent.
WKU, on the other hand, hit 49 percent overall while making 9-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc.
Both teams were charged with more than 10 turnovers in the first half too, but the Hilltoppers committed just five in the second period while UALR finished the game with 22.
Derrick Bails supplied six points and six rebounds for the Trojans, with both Lekheythan Malone and Mike Smith adding five boards apiece.
Lee’s six rebounds led the Hilltoppers, while Jeremy Evans chipped in with five.