Perhaps for the first time all season, the Western Kentucky basketball team found a way to swing for each other when it mattered the most.
And after going through plenty of on and off-court issues over the season’s first 10 games, the Hilltoppers all of a sudden find themselves with a new outlook on their season.
WKU (5-5) overcame a 13-point first-half deficit Saturday and used a late 16-3 spurt to get a comeback win over visiting Southern Illinois, 53-46 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
“The timing of this game was great, we were able to illustrate what it meant to us over the last two years (against SIU),” WKU coach Ken McDonald said. “We weren’t playing with enough energy, but we really turned it up and gave ourselves a chance to win against a good team.
“We’re maturing and progressing, maybe not as quickly as people want, but we’re getting better. Tonight we took a step forward. We got down, we didn’t drop our heads, we fought back.”
WKU was out-rebounded by 20, shot only 39 percent from the floor and went 11 of 18 from the foul line – but when things got dicey, heads didn’t fall.
“It was the first time really since the beginning of the season (that we played for each other,” WKU senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. “Everyone had each other’s backs. But we have to use this game as part of the learning process to now try and be consistent for the rest of the season.”
WKU entered the game a man down, as junior point guard Ken Brown was suspended indefinitely on Friday due to a violation of team rules. The university announced following the game Saturday that Brown has been dismissed from the program after admitting to a violation of a team academic policy.
The university issued a statement regarding Brown’s situation following the game. It read as follows: “Men’s Basketball student-athlete Ken Brown has admitted to a violation of a team academic policy and has been dismissed from the program. WKU Athletics prides itself on the highest academic standards, and this type of conduct is simply not acceptable.”
McDonald refused to get into specifics about the situation, but had this to say.
““It’s pretty much out there, and it really is unfortunate,” McDonald said. “We have to move forward and continue to understand what every opportunity each student-athlete has here at WKU.
“We have to continue to think about that in those terms and we hope good things for him. That’s about it.”