Hilltoppers fail to hold off Buffalo, Hamilton returns to lineup

WKU+senior+forward+Jairus+Hamilton+dunks+the+basketball+with+42.5+seconds+left+in+their+game+against+the+Alabama+State+University+Hornets+in+Diddle+Arena+on+Nov.+9%2C+2021.

Marshall C. Canupp

WKU senior forward Jairus Hamilton dunks the basketball with 42.5 seconds left in their game against the Alabama State University Hornets in Diddle Arena on Nov. 9, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU (5-4) lost 77-67 to Buffalo (5-3) at home on Wednesday night after the Bulls shot the lights out from the three point line and out-rebounded the Hilltoppers. 

“We didn’t do enough things well enough to beat a team like Buffalo,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “If we’re having lesser competition, maybe you can be not at your best and overcome it, but you can’t do that against a team like Buffalo.”

Dayvion McKnight led with 18 points, four assists and three rebounds. Jairus Hamilton finished with 15 points and four rebounds. Camron Justice had 14 points and three boards. On the other side of the floor, Josh MBalla led the Bulls with 19 points and nine rebounds. 

Jairus Hamilton was back in uniform after missing the last game due to a back injury. Josh Anderson is expected to be back for WKU’s next game as he has been out due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Hilltoppers had a strong start to the game. After starting 0-4, WKU hit five of its next five shots to help establish a small lead. The home team was getting to the rim with dribble drives and pick and rolls that the Bulls just couldn’t stop in the early going. 

On the defensive end, WKU was holding the Bulls to 35% shooting at the halfway mark of the first half, a lot of it due to a 2-3 zone defense that gave Buffalo issues with big man Jamarion Sharp causing havoc in the middle of the paint. 

Buffalo settled in on defense, causing turnovers and ripping off a 8-0 run to tie the game at 20 with just under eight minutes to go in the first half. From that point on it was a back-and-forth affair.

The Bulls hit eight of their last 10 shots of the half with multiple threes from the corner to take a 40-35 lead going into the locker room. They shot 40% from behind the arc compared to WKU’s 22% mark for the half. 

WKU came out of the break aggressive, scoring five of its first six shots, attacking the rim on fast breaks and protecting the rim on the other side with three blocks. 

Buffalo then got hot from the three point line, going on a 14-2 run to take a double-digit lead. They were 5-9 from the three point line halfway through the second half. 

“We weren’t really boxing out. I feel like if we did the fundamental box out we would have limited their offensive rebounds,” McKnight said. “We were just trying to outjump them and obviously that didn’t work.”

As the atmosphere in Diddle Arena began to drain, the Hilltoppers didn’t give up, with Hamilton and McKnight scoring 17 of WKU’s first 22 points of the back half to help bring the team within single digits. The Hilltoppers went on a mini-run to bring the energy back up in the stadium as they pulled within five. 

Once again, the Bulls were resilient, hitting clutch shots to not give WKU all of the momentum and essentially were able to put the game away after some timely threes to the point where WKU couldn’t mount a comeback. 

Buffalo finished +30 in three point shooting, outshooting WKU 13-3 from deep. The bulls dominated the boards 42-28 in total rebounds and 17-7 on the offensive boards. In the second half, Buffalo shot 7-18 from behind the arc, compared to WKU’s 1-8. 

WKU will head out for a short one-game road trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event. The Hilltoppers will take on Ole Miss Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. CT and that game will be broadcast on the SEC Network. 

“They’re a really good team. They just came off a win against Memphis so that tells you enough about them,” Stansbury said. 

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