MIAMI – Juan Pattillo saved his best for last, and because of that, Western Kentucky has itself a winning streak.
Pattillo’s 18-footer with eight seconds to play proved to be the game sealer, as WKU held off a late Florida International rally Thursday to win its third straight, 81-78 at U.S. Century Bank Arena in Miami.
“I really wasn’t feeling much, I just knew I was open and I was going to shoot it,” said Pattillo, who finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. “Me, (Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch) thrive on being captains of this team, and we all hope to thrive in late situations.
“It was a big win.”
The victory marks the third-straight for WKU after beginning Sun Belt play 0-4 and eventually falling to 5-11 after a six-game slide.
And though Thursday’s victory wasn’t a work of art – it was a road triumph, and one coach Ken McDonald said he’d gladly take.
“It’s never easy and games like this will help us,” McDonald said. “We put ourselves in position to win the game and we made plays to win it – and that’s a good thing for this basketball team.
“We’re chugging along, and we’re going to just keep fighting.”
After leading by as many as 14 midway through the second half, WKU (8-11, 3-4 Sun Belt) saw its lead began to dwindle thanks to some full-court pressure by FIU (8-12, 3-5).
The Golden Panthers got it to nine after a Tremayne Russell triple with 6:41 to pla. Then, back-to-back dunks by DeJuan Wright made it a seven-point game with 5:28 to go.
The lead would go down to five after two Phil Taylor free throws with a little more than five minutes to go before. Wright would then add two more foul shots before Ferguson scored on a tip-in, all of a sudden making it a 74-73 in favor of WKU with 1:56 to go.
WKU would push the lead back out to three before a Marvin Roberts jam with 40 seconds to play made it 79-78.
And after working through most of the shot clock, Kahlil McDonald found an open Pattillo on the baseline – who promptly drilled the game-sealing jumper.
FIU would have one last gasp, but a Phil Gary 3-pointer went wide – ending the game.
“It’s good to come out and get another one,” said WKU senior forward Sergio Kerusch, who finished with a team-high 21 points. “You can’t dwell on mistakes in this game, some of the guys were starting to get down – but we just said ‘hey, this is basketball, let’s settle down and win this game.
“No matter how ugly it is, a win’s a win.”