Hilltoppers come from behind, defeat Alabama State in season opener

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Arthur Trickett-Wile

Sophomore guard Isaiah Range (40) of the ASU Hornets attempts to block a layup by WKU sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight (20) in Diddle Arena on Tuesday evening, Nov. 9 of 2021, during the Hilltoppers’ first match of the season, a nail-biter, which they won 79-74.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU Men’s Basketball won its home opener 79-74 in a close encounter against Alabama State on Tuesday night. 

“When you’re not shooting the ball very well, not driving it in very well, you have to find other ways to score,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Those 16 second-chance points in the second half plus free throws is the way we won the game.”

Keith Williams and Zion Harmon were not available for the game and WKU played using a small rotation. 

Senior Jairus Hamilton led the team with 21 points on 7-12 shooting in his debut. Sophomore Dayvion McKnight finished with 19 points, six assists and shot 6-12 from the field. Fifth year Josh Anderson and redshirt senior Jaylen Butz both finished with 12 points each. 

The Hilltoppers had a rough start to the first half, scoring five of the first seven points but then falling into a 4:16 drought. The Hornets took advantage, going on a 12-0 run while creating four turnovers in that span. 

WKU struggled to create offense, only putting 11 shots in the first 10 minutes, making four of them. The Hornets doubled up on the Hilltoppers 22-11 before Hamilton brought some life into the offense to cut the deficit to six. 

ASU’s Trace Young went on his own 8-0 run to give the Hornets a more comfortable lead. A thunderous and-1 dunk from Anderson helped WKU gain the momentum it needed to close the half on a 13-4 run over the last five minutes of play. 

ASU took a 36-31 lead into the locker room. WKU had 12 first-half turnovers, shot 2-8 from behind the arc and shot 3-10 from the free throw line. 

The second half was a back-and-forth affair. 

The Hornets kept the hot shooting going to start the second half, going 5-5 and 2-2 from behind the arc following the break. Hamilton kept the Hilltoppers from falling too far behind, scoring five of its first seven points. 

The Hornets kept WKU at bay before the Hilltoppers’ length caused them some problems, creating turnovers and getting them some easy looks. Sherman Brashear came off the bench and provided some life in the Hilltoppers offense, hitting two threes to bring the deficit to two. 

“We started off really slow and they had a good lead on us, but those threes and that big dunk [by Anderson] really helped us keep having momentum and energy to fight on,” Hamilton said.

The two teams traded buckets before an and-1 free throw from Dayvion McKnight gave WKU its first lead since the opening minutes of the game with 17:53 left in the first half. 

McKnight was fouled hard, sending him into the scoring table and prompting some shoving from both sides. The Hilltoppers kept the intensity up and didn’t look back as they closed out the game by hitting clutch shots and free throws to take the slim five-point win. 

“We started off too slow today,” McKnight said. “We got down and good teams aren’t going to let us come back. So in the future we’re going to start off fast.”

WKU wreaked havoc defensively, causing a total of 23 turnovers, 13 coming in the second half. The Hilltoppers shot 17-30 from the free throw line but hit 14-20 in the second half. ASU shot 9-11 for the game. WKU outscored ASU 48-38 in the second half.

WKU will now head to Asheville, North Carolina to participate in the 2021 Asheville Championship. The Hilltoppers will face its first Power Five opponent of the season, taking on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Tipoff is set for Friday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. CT. 

Men’s basketball reporter Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.