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Trojans top WKU

Brandon Hazzard again rewrote his personal record book, as the Troy Trojans topped the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Saturday night, 87-82, in Trojan Arena to push their winning streak to 10 games.

Hazzard opened the game on fire from three-point range for the Trojans (17-10, 12-3 Sun Belt), hitting on 4-of-5 in the first 13 minutes of the game, and finished the game with a career-high 35 points.

“Our team motto right now is refuse to lose and whether it is (Richard) Delk doing it, Kenny Ware doing it or Josh Williams doing it, as long as we win everyone is satisfied,” Hazzard said. “I am just trying to step up and do what my team needs me to do.”

Troy head coach Don Maestri said Hazzard is playing great basketball.

“Brandon had an awesome game,” Troy head coach Don Maestri said. “It was a shooting performance that I haven’t seen in the Arena in a long time. I thought it was one of the best outside shooting performances.”

Maestri said the situation was the main reason Hazzard’s performance was good in his eyes.

“If you are up by 20 and you make those baskets, that is a different basket,” he said. “When you are in a two- or three-point game and you are down by two and you need a basket like that it is a tough basket to make. It looks like it counts for the same amount of points, but I am telling you that is a pressurized basket and those are bigger and tougher than others. Brandon was making them at key times.”

With Troy leading 78-72 late in the game, Delk penetrated through the lane and threw down a one-handed jam to electrify the crowd and give Troy an 80-72 lead with 1:39 to go in the game.

“I was just thinking of attacking the rim and my teammates told me to go after it, so I did,” Delk said. “The lane opened up and I saw the open shot and I dunked it.”

Delk contributed 14 points, six rebounds and three assists to the win.

Early on it was the battle of the three-point shot. And the Hilltoppers (17-8, 11-3) had a stretch in the middle of the second half where they were 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, but they were only 3-of-12 in the final 10 minutes of the game.

“I thought the courageousness of the team showed tonight,” Maestri said. “Western Kentucky had guys out on this floor who played in the Sweet 16 last year, so this is an outstanding basketball team. When they came out in the second half and took it to us immediately, in my opinion, that was a sign of courageous basketball that we didn’t fold when they gave it their best shot in the second half. These guys did one heck of a job against an outstanding basketball team of not letting this game get away.”

In that same period, after Troy only shot three free throws, making one, in the first 33 minutes of play they were 16-of-24 in the final 10 minutes.

“That was a big part of our success tonight,” Maestri said. “We missed some, but we made enough to keep pressure on them and keep us in the lead. Every time you get fouled and go shoot two free throws they are key and they were for us tonight. In pressure games you have to make the free throws.”

The teams went back and forth for most of the first half, with Troy entering the half with a 35-34 advantage.

Troy drew first blood in the second half on a Delk layup, but Sergio Kerusch tied the score at 37-37 and then WKU’s Orlando Mendez-Valdez caught fire with five three-pointers in a span of eight minutes.

“Mendez-Valdez has such distance that you just have to hope some of those times they don’t go in,” Maestri said.

A Hazzard three cut Troy’s deficit to 54-52 with 12 minutes left, but Mendez-Valdez hit from NBA range for a 59-52 lead. After a miss from Mendez-Valdez, Kenny Ware cut the lead to 59-57 with a three-ball of his own with 10:20 left on the clock.

Ware drained a three to put Troy ahead 64-61 with eight minutes to play.

Ware contributed 18 points with four three-pointers on the night.

Slaughter trimmed the Troy lead to 71-70 with a three-pointer, but Hazzard answered on the other end with 4:35 remaining.

Delk slammed it home and the Hilltoppers were forced to start fouling. The Trojans closed the game out from the line by going 8-of-12.

The win put Troy in a tie for first place in the Sun Belt East Division with Western Kentucky with three games remaining. The Trojans head to Miami, Fla. to take on Florida International Thursday. Tip off is set for 6 p.m.