WKU Wins Sun Belt Title: Tops MTSU

March 1st, 2009
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. ? Behind the strength of a 23-4 run, Western Kentucky University (21-8, 15-3 SBC) build itself largest half-time lead of the year and held off a furious Middle Tennessee (17-13, 10-8 SBC) second half surge to hand the Blue Raiders a 68-49 defeat at the Murphy Center on senior night. The win gives the Hilltoppers its seven- straight over its rival and the 2008-09 Sun Belt Conference Regular Season Championship, the school's 41st conference crown (regular season and tournament titles).

In addition to clinching the top seed in next week's Sun Belt Tournament, WKU earns an automatic bid into the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) if the Toppers do not receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It will represent the 34th national postseason appearance in the storied 90-year history of WKU basketball.

After the two teams traded some early buckets, WKU used an 11-2 run to open up the first space of the game at 13-5 on a steal and lay-up from AJ Slaughter at the 14:38 mark. Desmond Yates brought the Blue Raiders within four at 13-9, but WKU proceeded to rattle off 11-straight points in a 16-2 run that blew the game open 29-11 with 5:29 left in the half on a Orlando Mendez-Valdez jumper. Sergio Kerusch, the reigning SBC Player of the Week, scored nine of his 13 points during the run, finishing with 14 rebounds as well to give him his third double double in the past four games.

Calvin O'Neil finally halted a Middle Tennessee scoring drought of more than seven minutes, but WKU increased its margin to 39-17 at the break thanks in part to 7-of-25 shooting (28.0 percent) by the Blue Raiders on their home court.

Mendez-Valdez finished with a game-high 19 points, leaving him just six shy of 1,000 for his WKU career, while Slaughter's 13 points extended his career-best double figure scoring streak to 13 games.

WKU will await the winner of the Sun Belt Tournament opening round game between the eight and nine seeds, Louisiana-Lafayette and FIU. WKU's quarterfinal game versus the eight-nine winner will take place on Sunday, March 8 at 12:30 PM in Hot Springs, Ark.

?- With the 68-49 victory tonight, WKU wins the 2008-09 Sun Belt Conference Regular Season Championship (East Division and Overall) and clinches the top seed in next week's Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark.
?- With the SBC Championship, WKU receives an automatic bid to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) if the Hilltoppers do not make the NCAA Tournament; it is the program's 34th national postseason appearnce in the school's 90-year history
?- The conference championship is the 41st in the school's history (includes regular season and tournament titles), third most in NCAA history
?- The conference championship also marks the 60th in the last decade (both regular season and tournament titles) for WKU in all Sun Belt Conference sports
?- WKU improves to 91-30 all-time against Middle Tennessee having won seven-straight; WKU earned its third-straight season sweep of the Blue Raiders, the longest stretch since WKU won eight in a row from 1983 to 2002)
?- Improving to 21-8 overall, winners of 12 of their last 14, the Hilltoppers notched the program's fifth-consecutive 20-win campaign, the longest streak in SBC history and the most straight 20-win seasons for WKU in over 65 years; it is the 39th 20-win season in school history, the sixth-most in NCAA history