Hilltoppers fend off Skyhawks to return to .500, Hamilton drops 24 points

Hilltoppers%E2%80%99+head+coach+Rick+Stansbury+makes+a+calming+motion+to+his+players+during+the+final+seconds+of+their+game+against+the+Alabama+State+University+Hornets+at+Diddle+Arena+on+Nov.+9%2C+2021.

Marshall C. Canupp

Hilltoppers’ head coach Rick Stansbury makes a calming motion to his players during the final seconds of their game against the Alabama State University Hornets at Diddle Arena on Nov. 9, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU (3-3) pulled away late against UT Martin (3-4) 81-66 to win its second straight game and move to .500 on the season on Saturday in Diddle Arena.

“Give them credit, they’re a good little team and they made shots,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “And when you make shots, it’s like putting a dagger in you sometimes.”

Jairus Hamilton led with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Dayvion McKnight had 16 points, five rebounds and six assists. Luke Frampton finished with 16 points on 5-11 shooting. Cameron Justice had 17 points and four assists. 

“I’m starting to get back into shape, doing my thing, my legs are coming back underneath me,” Justice said. “I’m just trying to do what I need to do for this team to win.”

A rough opening for the Hilltoppers saw them start off shooting 4-12 which allowed the Skyhawks to go on two separate runs to take the lead on more than one occasion.

“It was a very early game, it was our first time playing at like 12 o’clock,” Hamilton said. “We kind of came out a little sluggish, a little fatigued. We just really had to put some extra emphasis on coming out and playing with a lot more energy and starting on the defensive end, let the defense create our offense… we were more locked in and engaged in the game as it went on.”

WKU was able to keep the game close due to the amount of fouls committed by UTM. The Hilltoppers started off 7-7 at the stripe while the Skyhawks didn’t get a single first half attempt. 

WKU committed a total of 10 first half turnovers leading to 15 points for UTM. WKU regained the lead 32-30 after a three-pointer from Cameron Justice, the first time the home team led since the 14:58 mark. 

The Skyhawks then proceeded to go on a 8-0 run in just over a minute to clinch the lead going into the locker room. 

Over half of the total field goals made by UTM were from behind the three point line, hitting eight out of 16 attempts and going +15 in that category. 

Coming out of the break, Frampton and Hamilton took over to start the half. Hamilton started off 3-4 with eight points while Frampton had a four-point play after getting fouled while making a three pointer.

“Sometimes you’ve got to find ways to just win when you’re not at your best, I thought we did that,” Stansbury said. “I thought Cam Justice was really good for us in that second half, [Davion McKnight] is [Dayvion McKnight] every night, Luke [Frampton] made shots, Jairus [Hamilton] was then man most of the night, he’s the one guy that scored that basketball around that rim and we needed somebody like that.”

The Skyhawks didn’t let it faze them, stopping the early onslaught as the lead shifted back and forth. 

WKU seized the momentum halfway through the half, going on a 10-0 run in three minutes while keeping UTM scoreless. Every time the Skyhawks looked to inch their way closer, WKU snatched it out of their hands. 

Turnovers, the Achilles’ heel of the offense in the first half, became a factor in the second half as WKU only had four compared to UTM’s six, allowing the Hilltoppers to go on big runs to take the lead. A three pointer by Frampton gave WKU a double-digit lead with a 1:43 left, essentially ending the game. 

WKU went 16-19 from the free throw line while UTM went just 1-1. Points in the paint were a big factor as WKU outscored UTM 38-20. WKU had 14 turnovers but only four in the second half and finished +10 on the boards. 

“Once we started getting down there and getting in the paint, guys were making plays, finishing at the rim,” Justice said. “Just doing what we need to do.”

Stansbury also touched on the status of Cincinnati transfer Keith Williams, who has not yet played this year due to an NCAA eligibility issue that the program is hoping to sort out sooner rather than later.

“No update,” Stansbury said. “Everybody at the NCAA has been on vacation, they go on vacation real early. Nobody has worked basically for the last week, hopefully when we come out of this vacation we’ll start getting some movement here real soon.”

WKU will continue its five-game home stand on Tuesday when it plays the most recently added game to the schedule against Rhodes College. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT.

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