BOCA RATON, Fla. — Facing the hottest team in the Sun Belt against one of the fiercest crowds they’ve seen all season, the Western Kentucky basketball team just kept on marching.
And after a pretty eventful week in Florida, the Hilltoppers suddenly have a new lease on life.
WKU got 18 points from Steffphon Pettigrew, a double-double from Sergio Kerusch and hit just enough free throws late to hand host Florida Atlantic its first Sun Belt loss of the season with a 57-53 win in Boca Raton, Fla.
“If you think back to maybe two and a half weeks ago and where our mental mindset was, it’s crazy,” WKU coach Ken McDonald said. “Confidence is a really big thing and we’re starting to become a more confident team.
“But the biggest change has been just putting the right effort out there every night. The intensity level has raised, guys expect more from each other and they respect each other more. … We’re starting to put it together, but we want to keep it going.”
The win was WKU’s fourth in a row and pulled the Hilltoppers even in the Sun Belt after an 0-4 start in league play.
And two weeks after the team appeared to be dead and buried with a six-game losing skid, WKU (9-11, 4-4) all of a sudden finds itself in third place, three games behind FAU in the SBC East.
“It feels good to beat an undefeated team and keep up that four-game winning streak,” Kerusch said. “But the win has to be short-lived. We want to get back home, get back in front of our fans and have them come out and support us and keep this thing going.”
More McDonald quotes:
“We’ve got some strong personalities on this team and it took a little bit for everyone to understand everything,” McDonald said. “We’ve had ups and downs and we’ve created some of our own. But when you have that, you have to show some resolve – and we’ve started to do that.
“We’re heading in the right direction, and you couldn’t feel that three weeks ago.”
“This week was huge,” he said. “You don’t want the confidence we’ve developed to just go out the window, and it didn’t, it was important that we stay with it.
“We’ve got a great home stretch coming up and the fanbase has been terrific even though we haven’t played well – now we have to take advantage.”
“We think we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, regardless of our record,” he said. “I know that happens because of how long I’ve been at Western Kentucky. It’s one of those things, but we have to stay hungry and treat every game as an individual.
“Now we can build off this momentum and we’ve got to take advantage.”
For full coverage, see Sunday’s Daily News