Dec. 6, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - Tulane senior Daniel Puckett scored a career-high 21 points, but all five Western Kentucky starters reached double figures and the Hilltoppers shot 56.9 percent from the field, including a stifling 70.6 percent from behind the three-point line, to hand the Green Wave its first loss at Fogelman Arena during the month of December since the 2003-04 season with a 82-67 victory.
Puckett scored 15 of his team-high 21 points and nailed three three-pointers in the first half, but no other TU player scored more than five points and Tulane (4-4) managed just a 32.4 percent effort from the field. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky (5-2) continued to prove it is one of the hottest teams in the country with a sizzling 61.5 percent performance from the field, hitting 16-of-26 attempts.
The Hilltoppers and Green Wave traded baskets for the majority of the opening minutes of the first half before Western Kentucky's Orlando Mendez-Valdez hit a lay-up and a trey on back-to-back possessions, sparking a 14-3 run, and helping his team take control of the game late in the first half.
WKU, which entered the game on a three-game win streak with impressive victories over No. 3 Louisville and Georgia, led by as many as 15 points before Puckett hit his third trey of the half to pull the Wave to within 12 points. Following a bucket by Steffphon Pettigrew, junior Asim McQueen was fouled on a made lay-up and his free throw at 2:04 for the conventional three-point play drew Tulane to within 11 points once more. McQueen's field goal and free throw proved to be the final points of the first half for the Wave, while the Hilltoppers added a jumper by D.J. Magley to take a 13-point, 41-28, advantage into intermission.
"We ran into the hottest team in the country this afternoon," Tulane head coach Dave Dickerson said. "Western Kentucky was very efficient offensively. They shot the ball well from the field and they shot the ball extremely well from behind the three-point line and free-throw line. Our defensive intensity and rebounding toughness are just not there yet this year, but we have try and find that in order to be a good team this year.
"When you lose a home game the way we did, there aren't a lot of high points, but I thought Daniel Puckett played really hard for a long time and did a really good job from a leadership standpoint and with his play. I also thought we had some good performances off the bench, but this is a team game where we have to get our team focused on doing better in certain situations."
Tulane came out fighting in the second half and managed to scrape its way to a nine-point deficit on several occasions. A Puckett three-pointer at 13:59 pulled the Wave to under double digits for the last time at 56-47. But the Hilltoppers continued to connect from long distance, nailing six three-balls in each half, and finishing 12 of 17 for the game. WKU answered with another trey from Mendez-Veldez and led by as many as 19 points down the stretch of the second half.
Puckett hit 8-of-14 of his field goal attempts and tied his single game high with four treys, and he also added five rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. Junior Kevin Sims was the only other TU player to reach double digits with 10 points and he distributed a team-best five assists.
Tulane shot 51.6 percent in the second half and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, but struggled from the foul line, hitting just 4-of-11 attempts and was out-rebounded, 37-27.
Mendez-Valdez led all scorers and tied his single game scoring mark with 23 points, while Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch finished with 17 and 15 points, respectively. Jeremy Evans notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, while A.J. Slaughter was the fifth Hilltopper to finish in double figures with 12 points.
The loss was the first for the Green Wave at Fogelman Arena since a 66-63 setback to Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 20, 2003, a streak of 12 straight victories during the month over the past five seasons.