Denton, Texas — Courtney Lee scored a game-high 31 points — including collecting the 2,000th of his career — and Tyrone Brazelton added 21 to go along with eight assists to help lead Western Kentucky University to a 94-84 Sun Belt Conference basketball win over North Texas Thursday at The Super Pit.
Lee, who reached the 30-point plateau for the third time this season, finished 13-of-19 from the field, and he was also credited with six rebounds, a block and a steal. Brazelton made 10-of-13 at the foul line — including six in the final 66 seconds — while turning the ball over just once as the Hilltoppers (19-5, 11-1 Sun Belt) won for the ninth straight time.
They go for their 10th victory in a row, as well as their 38th 20-win campaign, against Troy at E.A. Diddle Arena Wednesday, with opening tip slated for 7 p.m. (CST).
Josh White led the Mean Green (14-8, 5-6 SBC) with 22 points.
“I think the important thing is that we played well and that we continue to improve,” said WKU head coach Darrin Horn. “Every game is different, but our guys seem to be able to handle each challenge. We got great play from everybody tonight, our bench was huge.
“And, we did this against a really talented team.”
The Toppers led by double digits on four occasions through the first 30 minutes before a 10-2 run helped finish NT. Brazelton’s three-point play at 9:13 started the spurt, and he was credited with assists on WKU’s other three baskets — layups from Lee and Orlando Mendez-Valdez and a Lee three from the right corner — as the Hilltopper edge grew to 76-61 with seven-and-a-half minutes to go.
Mendez-Valdez would add 10 points and three rebounds while posting two assists, two blocks and a pair of steals in 29 minutes.
And, with WKU facing early foul trouble, A.J. Slaughter came off the bench to add 12 points and five boards. In all, Topper reserves recorded 34 points and 18 rebounds.
WKU built an early double-figure advantage after an 8-0 spurt in a minute-and-a-half span left the Toppers ahead 14-4 with 15-and-a-half minutes to go, with Brazelton and Lee chipping in with five points apiece. While Ben Bell ended the run with a short jumper, the Mean Green could not cut their deficit to fewer than six points the rest of the half.
The Hilltoppers would end the opening period shooting 52.8 percent from the floor, including sinking four threes, as Lee led them with 12 points in 16 minutes. Slaughter added nine, including a three-point play four seconds before the break that put WKU up 49-40 going to the locker room, with Brazelton supplying eight points.
Nine Toppers would mark in the scoring column in the opening period.
NT overcame 37.5 shooting in the first half by making 18 trips to the foul line, where they shot 77.8 percent. White paced all players in the opening 20 minutes with 14 points including scoring seven of the Mean Green’s eight during a two-and-a-half minute stretch after Jeremy Evans hit a three from the left wing to give the Toppers a 10-point lead, 37-27, with just under seven minutes left.
WKU contributed to the Mean Green’s poor shooting with five individuals combining to block six shots before the break.
NT would end the contest shooting 42.2 percent overall, including making just 7-of-21 three-point attempts.
“We tried to play a little zone and be smart with it,” Horn added. “It didn’t go so well in the first half, but the zone really helped us in the second half — we were able to keep them out of their rhythm. Coming into the game, the goal was to take away transition baskets, defend the three and win the battle of the boards. Until they made two threes late, we held them around 25 percent from three even though they came into the game shooting 40 percent.”
The Toppers connected on 54.8 percent of their shots, hitting just under 58 percent from the field in the second half, while finishing 7-of-14 from three-point range. They won the battle of the boards 40-35 and committed on 11 turnovers as well.
Evans paced WKU on the glass with eight rebounds, adding six points and a game-high three blocks, while Mike Walker supplied six points and six rebounds.
Quincy Williams collected 13 points and a team-best seven boards for the Mean Green, with Tristan Thompson chipping in with 12 points — all in the second half — and Keith Wooden adding 11.
Thompson made two free throws five minutes into the second half to cut the WKU lead to 55-50, which was as close as NT would get, while it was still a six-point contest, 61-55, with just under 13 minutes remaining when he hit the first of his two threes.