SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- If Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald needs to remind his team who they are and what they need to do to be successful, then he’ll likely bust out the second-half tape of Friday's win over Hofstra for the rest of the season.
The Hilltoppers, one of the Sun Belt favorites and a possible pest in the NCAA tournament if they get a bid, came back from 14 down to Hofstra to win 62-60 in the consolation game of the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.
How significant a comeback was it for the Toppers? Western Kentucky has a shot to go 2-1 if it can beat Davidson on Sunday, which for a team hoping to possibly be an at-large school is a major development.
“Our backs were against the wall,’’ McDonald said. “We’re still trying to figure out who we are, but we can use this.’’
McDonald said that kind of swing can help shape a season and he’s hoping to build off of it. Western Kentucky has three studs who could play anywhere in Sergio Kerusch, Juan Pattillo (who started out at Oklahoma) and Steffphon Pettigrew. But the Hilltoppers hadn’t played cohesively through the first three halves of the tournament.
“You could tell we weren’t as together as we had been in the first two games [which started with a 28-point road rout of Saint Joseph’s],’’ Pettigrew said. “We were out of sync in the first game and first half. We didn’t have our focus. Now we’ve got a chance to leave Puerto Rico Sunday feeling good.’’
The trapping and pressing of Western Kentucky completely flustered Hofstra down the stretch. Putting Pattillo on CAA player of the year Charles Jenkins took him out of the game. Still, Jenkins had two chances to win it, but the first time he passed off to Mike Moore, who missed a wide-open 3-pointer. Then on the last possession with three seconds left, he didn’t touch the ball.
Jenkins, who scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, said after the game he had confidence in Moore taking the shot. He said the young team is gaining confidence. But he knew there was a missed opportunity for the Pride.
Western Kentucky will have some opportunities to improve its power-rating with a loaded nonconference schedule that includes South Carolina and Louisville at home and road trips to Vanderbilt, Memphis and Murray State.
But leaving here 0-3 would have been a deep hole for the Hilltoppers. Now the chance is there for a 2-1 departure and momentum toward a possible at-large bid.