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Western Kentucky wins “wild west” showdown

CONWAY, S.C., November 16, 2018 – The Myrtle Beach Invitational became the scene of a Wild West showdown Friday night, as West Virginia and Western Kentucky turned in a spirited early-season performance.

When the dust settled, WKU had emerged with a hard-fought 63-57 victory over the Mountaineers. The game ended with West Virginia scoring six consecutive points to forge a 57-57 tie, followed by the Hilltoppers scoring six straight over the final 1:03 to secure the victory.

“We were just able to find a way,” said WKU coach Rick Stansbury, who was soaked after being drenched with water and Gatorade by his players in the locker room following the game. “Our guys did a great job keeping them off balance a little bit.

“It’s not always about how well you play. Sometimes how hard you play overcomes some things. What I’m most proud of is we went against probably the hardest-playing team in the country, and our guys rose to the occasion.”

Western Kentucky will play UCF on Sunday for the Myrtle Beach Invitational championship, while West Virginia will play St. Joseph’s in the third-place game.

Both teams struggled shooting the ball, with the Hilltoppers sinking only 32.1 percent of their shots and West Virginia making 33.3 percent from the field.

But perhaps the most surprising stat was in the turnover column. WKU turned the ball over only 13 times against the Mountaineers’ pressure defense, while West Virginia committed 22 turnovers.

“A big key was we didn’t turn the ball over against their press,” Stansbury said. “That was huge, keeping them from getting those easy baskets.”

Of course, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins wasn’t happy with that stat. “We don’t really have (a press),” he said. “We’ve tried. We don’t have the foot speed, we don’t have the athleticism. Honestly, I don’t know what to do.”

Huggins was equally as frustrated with the Mountaineers’ inability to take care of the ball. And it was a problem spread across the team, as seven players committed at least two turnovers each.

“We were throwing it to the guys in the wrong-colored shirts,” Huggins said. “You can’t continue to just throw the ball away.”

Despite the problems, it was a thrilling game played before a boisterous crowd at HTC Center. There were 10 lead changes and six ties, and neither team led by more than six points the entire way.

“Those were tough, hard, physical minutes tonight,” Stansbury said “It wasn’t a pretty game from a standpoint of execution on either end. There were lot of turnovers on both ends. But it was a tough, gritty, basketball game. And I’m proud that our guys could go toe-to-toe and win one of those games.”

Valparaiso 64, Monmouth 53

Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich had a stern message for his team just before the Crusaders took the court Friday night against winless Monmouth:

Take this team lightly, and you will lose.

Message received. The Crusaders jumped out to an early 13-6 lead and never trailed in handling the Hawks 64-53.

“We told our guys that this was a very proud program, they’re not afraid, and if you’re not ready to match their intensity, they’re going to run away with the game,” Lottich said. “We challenged our players, and I thought they were locked in and aggressive from the start.”

Indeed, other than a brief tie at 6-6, Valparaiso (2-1) led the entire way. The Crusaders built a double-digit advantage by the 11-minute mark of the first half and maintained that cushion for most of the second half. And they stifled any comeback attempt by Monmouth (0-5), as the Hawks never scored more than five consecutive points the entire game.

“It was a very tough night for us,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “They grabbed ahold of the game, and once they did that there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

Senior guard Deion Lavender led the way for Valpo with 15 points (on 7-of-8 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists. Junior forward Mustapha Traore was the only Monmouth player to reach double figures, scoring 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting.

Valpo will play Wake Forest on Sunday in the tournament’s fifth-place game, while Monmouth will take on Cal State Fullerton for seventh place.