Bowling Green, Ky. — Western Kentucky University had a season-high five players score in double figures Wednesday, while defensively the Hilltoppers held the Sun Belt Conference’s top-scoring team to only 40 points through the first 35 minutes en route to a 92-57 league win over Troy at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The victory was the Hilltoppers’ 20th of the season, helping the four seniors in their fourth year at WKU — Courtney Lee, Ty Rogers, Boris Siakam and Adam Howard — become just the second class in the last 50 years to post four consecutive 20-win campaigns. The Toppers improved to 20-5 while keeping pace with South Alabama after moving to 12-1 in the Sun Belt.
Overall, it gave the program its 38th season with 20 or more victories.
Troy fell to 10-15, 3-11 in the SBC, after dropping its sixth decision in the last seven outings.
“The 20th win is significant from the standpoint that we have a group of seniors who have done an awful lot for this program,” stated Hilltopper head coach Darrin Horn. “They’ve won 20 games for four straight years against some of the toughest non-conference schedules that this school has ever played — that’s only been done one other time in the last 50 years. I think you have to take your hats off to Courtney, Ty and those guys for what they’ve accomplished.”
While Rogers and Siakam scored 12 points each and Lee chipped in with 10, it was Tyrone Brazelton who paced the Hilltoppers with 15 points and six assists while turning the ball over just one time against the Trojans. A.J. Slaughter also scored 12 points as WKU shot 49.3 percent from the field while sinking 13 three-point baskets.
The Hilltoppers also outrebounded the Trojans, 47-35, with Siakam and Mike Walker leading the way with six boards apiece. Lee grabbed five, as did Jeremy Evans, while both Rogers and Steffphon Pettigrew collected four each.
And, WKU was credited with a season-best 23 assists, with Orlando Mendez-Valdez handing out five without a turnover and Rogers supplying three. The Toppers turned the ball over just nine times as well.
Troy shot only 33.3 percent overall and 29.7 percent from beyond the arc, while the Trojans were charged with 20 turnovers. Jerome Odem paced them with a game-high 18 points after making 6-of-11 attempts from three-point range. O’Darien Bassett — who posted 36 points in the first meeting between the two schools this season, a 94-90 WKU victory in Troy on Dec. 29 — and Justin Jonus just missed double figures after scoring nine points each, while Kenny Ware’s eight rebounds paced all players.
“This game ended up the way we wanted it to,” Horn said. “Offensively we were good, but we were much better defensively than the last time we played — there’s no question that was the key.”
It didn’t take long for the Toppers to establish control of the contest, as they opened with a 10-2 run in the first three minutes and 16 seconds with both Lee and Rogers connecting on three-pointers. Bassett cut the deficit to five with a three-point play at 15:30, but WKU would score 12 of the next 14 points to lead by double figures the rest of the way.
Rogers would go on to score all of his points in the first half in helping the Hilltoppers take a 47-22 lead at the break, hitting three treys including one he turned into a four-point play with two minutes remaining that made the score 39-20. Mendez-Valdez and Slaughter would add threes after that as WKU hit 8-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
Mendez-Valdez also chipped in with nine points, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, as did Pettigrew. Evans had seven points as well.
The Toppers were just as effective on the defensive end in the opening period, forcing 11 turnovers while limiting the Trojans to just 29.6 percent shooting. Mendez-Valdez recorded a game-best three steals for the game, with both Rogers and Slaughter credited with two.
In fact, Troy — which entered play leading the Sun Belt with 11.42 three-pointers per contest — didn’t hit its first shot from beyond the arc until Trayce Macon connected with just under 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Trojans would finish with 11 treys, but that included four in the final four-and-a-half minutes.
It was just the 11th time in 26 years of play in the Sun Belt that the Hilltoppers have won a game by 35 or more points, and the first since a 92-51 victory over Middle Tennessee on Feb. 24, 2001.
The Toppers will next face the Blue Raiders, with tip-off in Murfreesboro scheduled for 3 p.m. (CST) Saturday.