The Mean Green (12-9, 5-5 Sun Belt West) led for over 37 minutes of the game until A.J. Slaughter and the Hilltoppers (14-7, 8-2 Sun Belt East) came alive in the closing moments. Slaughter had 10 points in the final five minutes, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers with three minutes remaining to give the WKU, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last year, their first lead of the day.
Slaughter led all scorers with 22 points, cancelling the efforts of Dominique Johnson who dropped in 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting for the Mean Green. Josh White wasn’t far behind with 14 points, and Eric Tramiel fought foul trouble to collect 12.
North Texas led by as much as 11 points in the first half, and had its hopes kept a live by Johnson’s runner in the lane with 50 seconds remaining which gave NT a one point edge. That’s when WKU’s Jeremy Evans answered on the other end with a tough jumper over Eric Tramiel and free throws sealed the deal for WKU.
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NT started the first half 5-for-5 from the floor and was nearly as hot in the second. Tristan Thompson and Josh White helped NT hit its first four shots in the second as NT seemed to be on cruise control.
The Mean Green shot 46.9 percent from the floor, but was no match for Western Kentucky’s 58.3 percent shooting in the second half.
From the opening tip, the Mean Green turned an early 6-0 lead into a 12-3 advantage on the backs of White and Tramiel. White hit a couple of runners and found Tramiel on one of his three layups inside the game’s first five minutes.
Outside of Steffphon Pettigrew from deep, the Hilltoppers had a tough time getting going. The sophomore nailed a pair from downtown to give WKU six of its first seven points, and led all scorers with nine points at the half.
The Mean Green was able to turn nine Western Kentucky first half turnovers into 12 points, heading into the break with a 34-25 lead.
The Mean Green continues its two game road swing at South Alabama on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala. NT will be back at home on Saturday night to take on Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m.