New-look Hilltoppers take exhibition win over Campbellsville, Harmon and Williams sidelined

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WKU Athletics

Charlotte sophomore Brice Williams (left) guarding WKU freshman Dayvion McKnight (right) on Jan. 2, 2021. 

Nick Kieser, Sports feature writer

WKU took the floor on Monday night for its first exhibition game of the season against Campbellsville University. The Hilltoppers won in blowout fashion 82-61 over the Tigers.

Prior to tip-off, WKU announced it would play without Cincinnati transfer Keith Williams and freshman Zion Harmon.

“Zion is a real good kid and we’re all trying to help him right now through these personal issues,” head coach Rick Stansbury said after the game. “I have no time frame for his return right now.”

According to a press release from WKU Athletics, Williams is working out his eligibility status with the NCAA. Williams initially declared for the 2021 NBA Draft back in April but instead entered the transfer portal in late June.

“We just don’t know yet, hopefully sooner rather than later,” Stansbury said of Williams. “Keith is another high-level guy who helps us in a lot of different ways. He can drive that ball through the paint and he’s been learning a new system. It’s just challenging for him right now knowing he’s not eligible.”

The Hilltoppers came out and won the opening tip but failed to score on their first few opening trips down the court. Likewise, the Tigers couldn’t muster a basket in the opening moments either.

“There’s some good, lots of things to work on,” Stansbury said. “The one stat that jumped out at me was getting to the foul line. We got there 14 times and that’s just not near efficient.”

Maryland transfer Jairus Hamilton led the Hilltoppers in scoring, dropping 19 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the process for a double-double.

“I thought he was as comfortable as anybody,” Stansbury said. “He played hard, and when you play hard it’s hard to let things creep into your mind. He’s shown that the past two weeks in practice.”

Hamilton knocked down WKU’s first two baskets of the game after roughly three minutes of play. Hamilton continued to look comfortable as he sank his third shot of the night by the halfway point of the first half. WKU maintained its lead for 15:51 of the first half.

Junior big man Jamarion Sharp put in his first dunk as a Hilltopper at the 9:16 mark, looking oddly similar to former Hilltopper Charles Bassey with his dominant finish at the rim. Sharp managed 14 points and three blocks in his debut on John Oldham Court.

Hamilton was also picking up his end at the rim too. He cruised to finish the first half with a double-double, totaling 10 points and 10 rebounds.

WKU experimented with the flow of its game with quick fast breaks and passes up the middle to attempt dunks. The tempo was established as the Hilltoppers shot 8-for-8 prior to the closing of the opening half, leading 32-20.

“We want to play fast, I think we have the personnel where we can do that,” Stansbury said. “We have some bigs who can run like Jamarion, give him four or five strides and he’s there. The floor will be spread out a little more this year.”

The perimeter was held well by the Hilltoppers heading into halftime. At the break, WKU led 37-23. Sophomore Dayvion McKnight finished the half second in scoring with seven points and three assists.

WKU shot 15-for-34, good for 44%, in the first half of play while the Tigers were held to just 25% from the field.

Hamilton hit his third three-pointer of the game coming out of the break and a few minutes later added his fourth. The Maryland transfer reached 19 points on his fifth triple of the night a few moments later to claim a 55-27 lead over the Tigers.

Sharp went down with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. He came down on his ankle after going up for an offensive rebound. The big man wasted no time returning to the game after being assessed on the sideline and slammed down a dunk with 8:49 remaining.

The Tigers penetrated the perimeter a few times and made some shots from deep late into the contest. Not many contested shots found the net as the Hilltopper defense held its ground late into the game.

WKU closed out the exhibition by giving minutes to bench players like Bailey Conrad, Isaiah Cozart and Sherman Brashear. The Hilltoppers took the first exhibition of their 2021-22 campaign 82-61 over the Tigers and will return to Diddle Arena for another exhibition, this time against the University of the Cumberlands, on Friday, Nov. 5.

Sports feature writer Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @KieserNick.