Short-handed Hilltoppers squeak by Colonels, Hamilton out with back injury

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Arthur Trickett-Wile

WKU Hilltoppers’ redshirt senior guard Luke Frampton (14) drives for a layup against the ASU Hornets’ in Diddle Arena on Tuesday evening, Nov. 9 of 2021, during the Hilltoppers’ first conference match of the season, a nail-biter, which they won 79-74.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU (5-3) pulled away late to win 85-80 against in-state opponent Eastern Kentucky (5-4), doing so with a short-handed roster. 

It was announced before the game that senior forward and leading scorer Jairus Hamitlon would sit out due to a back injury, while Josh Anderson remains out due to COVID-19 protocols. 

Head coach Rick Stansbury said after the game he’s hoping Hamilton is able to return by Wednesday to play Buffalo but doesn’t know for sure if he will be available. 

Sherman Brashear stepped into the starting lineup in place of Hamilton. Dayvion McKnight led with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists. Cameron Justice had 18 points and six assists. Jamarion Sharp finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds. 

Both teams came out wanting to attack and show off their strengths. EKU has been known to get hot from deep and did exactly that, scoring all of its points from there in the first five minutes with Cooper Robb having nine of them. 

Despite missing Hamilton and Anderson, WKU had the size advantage with Sharp. EKU laid on the full-court press early and often but the Hilltoppers took advantage, leading to easy dunks with Sharp or a corner three with Brashear. 

WKU played a 2-3 zone for most of the first half which allowed the Colonels to find weak spots and hit threes. WKU took advantage on the other side, scoring in the paint. 

“We were really good against that press, that press turns a lot of people over,” Stansbury said. “We made them pay at the end, when teams are pressing you, you have to make them pay some.” 

WKU took a 39-38 lead into the locker room. EKU was +21 from behind the arc but WKU outscored the Colonels 22-10 in the paint. 

“We went over their plays and knew they were going to do a 2-2-1 and we knew if we attacked hard then I would be open in the dunking spot the whole time,” Sharp said.  

The second half started the same as the first. Robb came out and scored nine of the first 11 EKU points, all from three-point land. The Hilltoppers didn’t let it faze them, matching made basket for made basket. 

Frampton came alive in the second half, scoring 11 of his 13 total points, hitting shots when they were needed most and putting his body on the line to draw crucial charges. 

With seven minutes left, WKU began a two minute scoring drought that allowed EKU to retake the lead 69-68. From there, the teams traded baskets back and forth for the rest of the game. 

Cameron Justice hit a reverse layup to take the lead with a minute left. Justice then hit two free throws to give WKU a two possession lead. WKU would go on to ice the game with more free throws to take the win.

“I feel like we’re coming together as a team,” McKnight said. “Early [on] we got a new team and now it’s coming along.” 

Despite poor shooting from behind the arc, WKU shot 52% from the field. EKU shot 40% from the field and hit 18-51 threes. 

WKU finished +16 in points in the paint, outscoring EKU 36-20, and held the edge in fast break points 19-10. A big part of WKU’s win came at the charity stripe – WKU hit 20-26 free throws while EKU only hit 4-7. 

WKU will be off until next Wednesday before the team takes on Buffalo to cap off its five-game home stand. 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.