BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — A rare New Year's game for Western Kentucky University brought about a first in the modern day, storied history of the Hilltoppers' men's basketball program. Senior guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez recorded the first known triple double in WKU history as the Toppers (8-4, 2-0 SBC) downed Troy University (5-9, 1-2 SBC) 99-76 in Sun Belt Conference action on Thursday afternoon at Diddle Arena.
Mendez-Valdez finished with a career-best 12 assists and 10 rebounds to go with 18 points. In addition, he committed just one turnover and swiped two steals in 33 minutes of action. With 6:53 remaining, needing one assist and one rebound for the historic feat, the San Antonio, Texas native snared an offensive rebound off a missed Dejan Cvoro shot and found AJ Slaughter for a three-pointer on the right wing.
The game marked only the sixth New Year's day contest in the 90 seasons of WKU basketball, and just the second since 1952. WKU also improved to a remarkable 57-5 in home conference games since 2000.
WKU quickly grabbed a 14-5 advantage with 15:44 on the clock as Sergio Kerusch knocked down a jumper. The Toppers opened 6-of-8 from the field and never really cooled off, finishing 40-of-69 from the field for season-high 58.0 percent.
After a Mendez-Valdez trey pushed the spread into double figures at 23-13 with 11:55 remaining, Troy fought back behind an 8-0 run to pull within a bucket. Travis Lee's three with 10:09 left made it 23-21 as the Trojans connected on 8-of-11 following a sluggish 2-of-6 beginning.
Leading by three with less than three minutes left in the opening half, the Toppers closed out the stanza on an 11-2 run to lead 50-38 at the break. Carrying over into the second half, the run extended to 19-3 capped off by Steffphon Pettigrew's three-pointer with 17:55 to play, ballooning the spread to 58-39. Six different WKU players scored during the run.
Troy countered one final time with a 17-8 run to trim the deficit to 66-56 with 14:27 left. The Trojans connected on eight-straight field goals before a Mendez-Valdez triple ended the run and WKU responded by scoring 12 of the next 16 to push out to a 78-60 advantage with just over 10 minutes to play.
Richard Delk led the Trojans with 17 points while Lee and Brandon Hazzard added 15 and 14 respectively.
Slaughter recorded his fifth 20-point performance in the last eight games with 20 points and five assists. Pettigrew finished with 19 while Jeremy Evans contributed 16 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks. As a team, WKU dished out a season-best 25 assists while committing only 13 turnovers and dominated the glass 41-27, out scoring Troy in second chance points 20-5.
WKU will look to remain perfect at Diddle Arena on the 2008-09 season while seeking its first 3-0 conference start since 2005-06 when the Toppers host UALR on Saturday, January 3 at 7:00 PM.
• WKU improves to 4-2 on New Year's Day (2-0 at home) in only the second New Years game in the program's history since 1952
• WKU improves to 149-46 (.764) all-time in Sun Belt Conference games played at Diddle Arena
• WKU improves to 57-5 (.919) in Sun Belt Conference games played at Diddle Arena since 2000
• WKU gets third 2-0 start in conference play in the past four seasons
• For the fourth time in four tries this year, WKU bounced back from a loss with a victory
• WKU improves to 257-111 (.698) all-time against the 12 current members of the Sun Belt Conference (includes postseason and match-ups when WKU was in the OVC); since joining the SBC in 1982, the Toppers are 254-150 (.629) all-time
• WKU has had three or more players in double figures in nine of 12 games this season
• WKU improves to 490-131 (.789) all-time in 46 seasons at Diddle Arena
• The 50 first-half points was the most WKU has scored in a half this season
• The 99 points was the most scored in a regulation game by WKU since beating ULM 103-96 at Diddle Arena on January 31, 2007
• The 99 points was the most ever scored by either team in the seven-game series history
• WKU improves to 6-1 all-time against Troy with five-straight victories (4-0 at Diddle)
• The 58.0 percent shooting and 25 assists were a season-best
• Dejan Cvoro made his first collegiate start
• Japeth Aguilar saw his first action of the season with 2:54 left in the first half, sinking his first shot attempt of the year
• All 12 active WKU players saw action and 10 scratched into the scoring column
• Orlando Mendez-Valdez recorded the first triple double in the known history of WKU Men's Basketball
• Orlando Mendez-Valdez set career-highs in assists (12) and rebounds (10)
• WKU has had 10 or more made three-pointers in five of 12 games this year (had five in 36 games last season)
• WKU has now won 11-straight when scoring 80 points or more (3-0 this season)
• AJ Slaughter recorded his fifth 20-point performance in the last eight games
• The 12 assists by Orlando Mendez-Valdez marks the first double-digit assist performance since Tyrone Brazelton against ULM on January 31, 2007
WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald
On Orlando Mendez-Valdez' play and recording a triple double:
"I'm very happy for him, I thought he played a complete game. Once again, it shows how tough he is as a player, and I have a lot of respect for Orlando. I love him as a kid and I love him as a player. Its funny because we showed one clip at the end of practice yesterday that we wanted to represent how we wanted our image to be as a basketball program, and it was an image of him in the Florida State game where he guarded the 7-1 player the whole possession, and he was fighting the whole possession to front him, and ended up stealing the ball from him. We told everybody that if they played as hard as Orlando, that we'd be really good from here on out."
"You are talking about a great program with great players, over a long stretch of time, and its [a triple double] has never happened."
On if Coach McDonald had ever been a part of a staff that witnessed a triple double:
“I had a triple double once, in junior college, not major Division I college, but I had one once. I'm trying to think, if I have been a part of one, and I think I have, maybe at Texas. I want to say PJ Tucker had one one time."