BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Orlando Mendez-Valdez connected on his third three-pointer of the second half with 1:59 to play and newcomer Uros Komadinic came off the bench with 54.9 ticks left to knock down a pair of free throws as Western Kentucky University rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to stave off a feisty Bellarmine University 70-65 on Saturday night at Diddle Arena.
It was the final of two preseason exhibition games for both squads. WKU wins its 12th-straight exhibition game dating back to 2002 and improves to 7-0 all-time against four-year, US schools.
With the Hilltoppers holding a slim 30-28 edge at the break, Bellarmine hit its first seven shots from the field, building a nine-point cushion with 12:42 to play in Forrest Smallwood's fastbreak lay-up. With eight of their 36 bench points coming from Smallwood, Bellarmine got 10 of its 16 points in the opening 16-5 run of the final frame from its reserves.
After the hot start, however, the Toppers' defense kicked in and cooled off the Knights, holding them to just 5-of-21 over the final 12 minutes, for 23.8 percent.
Trailing 51-46 with 9:31 on the clock, Jeremy Evans got an offensive putback while Mendez-Valdez drained back-to-back three-pointers as WKU surged in front 54-51. It was one of nine lead changes in the contest, to go along with 13 ties.
Evans finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds while Mendez-Valdez poured in a game-high 18 points on 4-of-8 from long range and a perfect 6-of-6 at the stripe. For the game, the Hilltoppers were near flawless at the stripe connecting on 21-of-23 attempts for 91.3 percent. A.J. Slaughter chipped in 12 points and three steals while Anthony Sally dished out five of the team's seven assists.
Trailing 54-51, Bellarmine scored 12 of the game's next 17 points to push back in front 63-59 with 2:13 to play on one of two free throws by Chartrael Hall. Hall tied Braydon Hobbs for team-high honors with 16 points for Bellarmine.
But the big three by Mendez-Valdez and WKU's perfect 10-of-10 performance at the charity stripe in the closing 3:03 allowed the Hilltoppers to pull out the win.
Bellarmine outrebounded WKU 36-33, but committed five more miscues (17-12).
With the exhibition portion of their schedule complete, WKU will tip-off its 90th season of college basketball on Saturday, November 15 in Houston, Texas against the University of Houston at 3:00 PM.