HOUSTON, Texas — Houston (2-1) survived a stiff challenge from Western Kentucky University (0-1), rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit to spoil the Hilltoppers' coaching debut of Ken McDonald 73-64 on Saturday afternoon at Hofheinz Pavilion. A shorthanded WKU turned in an impressive display on the glass, but could not overcome a 23-2 whole in points off turnovers.
A couple of quick buckets gave the Cougars a 4-0 lead in the opening minute. But following one of two free throws by Aubrey Coleman to make it a 5-3 game, the Toppers defense held Houston scoreless for the next 5:39 in staking a 13-5 advantage ignited by back-to-back threes by Steffphon Pettigrew and Anthony Sally. WKU canned 6-of-12 from long range in the first half and finished 11-of-24 for the game for 45.8 percent.
Horace McGloster's three with 11:47 remaining in the first-half ended the scoring drought for the Cougars, but newcomer Uros Komadinic came off the Topper bench to drill the first of his three first-half triples to push the margin into double figures at 18-8 with 10:39 on the clock. Komadinic finished with a team-high 14 points on 4-of-5 from long range. As a team, WKU more than doubled the output of the Cougar bench 25-10. McGloster scored eight-straight for Houston, keeping them in the game in the opening stanza.
Through the first 10 minutes, WKU held a 17-3 rebounding edge, finishing with a 39-35 advantage for the game.
On a homecoming weekend when Houston honored two of its own, NBA greats Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon, the Cougars turned up the pressure in the second half. Scoring nine of the first 11 points, Qa'rraan Calhoun's put back slam of a missed Desmond Wade lay-up ignited the crowd and drew the Cougars within four at 40-36 less than four minutes in.
Sally got a jumper to fall on the ensuing trip up the floor for the Hilltoppers, but it was not enough to stem the tide as another offensive stick-back by Calhoun with 12:08 to play gave Houston its first lead in nearly 25 minutes of action at 46-45. Calhoun scored 10 of his 15 in the second half.
Komadinic knocked down a three-pointer off a second-chance opportunity to nudge the Toppers back in front as the teams traded the lead over the next six minutes, never pulling ahead by more than one possession.
After Pettigrew's three with 5:28 remaining made it 57-56, the Cougars regained the lead for good, scoring the next six points thanks in part to a pair of WKU turnovers and 0-of-2 shooting. For the game, the Toppers committed 20 miscues while forcing nine, resulting in a 23-2 deficit in points off turnovers.
Orlando Mendez-Valdez, playing back in his home state of Texas and in front of nearly 150 family members and friends, drilled a big trey from the top of the key with 1:26 to play, but Coleman converted 4-of-4 at the line in the closing minute as the Cougars held on. Coleman scored 18 of his game-high 19 in the second half on 11-of-14 at the stripe. Marcus Coleman and Kevin Lewis each added 12.
Mendez-Valdez and Pettigrew each had 11 for WKU while Jeremy Evans just missed a double double, pulling down 11 boards to go with eight points.
WKU was playing without its leading returning scorer from last year's NCAA "Sweet 16" run, junior A.J. Slaughter, who is being required by the NCAA to not play in the Hilltoppers' first two games of the 2008-09 season because of his participation in a summer basketball competition that was not sanctioned by the NCAA.
WKU returns home to Bowling Green, Ky. to host Campbellsville University on Tuesday, November 18 at 7:00 PM at E.A. Diddle Arena.