WKU (10-8, 2-3 C-USA) dropped their second straight game in Boca Raton, Fla., 78-69, after a huge rally in the second half by the Florida Atlantic Owls (10-8, 3-2 C-USA) turned the tide on the Hilltoppers.
Sophomore Dayvion McKnight led the way with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Graduate guard Camron Justice scored 18 points and five assists. All five starters for Florida Atlantic scored in double digits.
“Any time you go on the road it’s never easy,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “The margin for winning and losing is zero and give them some credit, they made some plays.”
The married graduate started off the game on fire, scoring WKU’s first seven points. Justice hit a three-pointer during that stretch, extending WKU’s streak of at least one made three in 1,087 straight games, the third longest streak in the country.
FAU is one of the best teams shooting from beyond the three-point line, but WKU looked to change that narrative in the first half with three players hitting a three-pointer. The Hilltoppers shot 5-of-8 from behind the arc in the first half while holding the Owls to 3-of-8.
It definitely was a shooter’s gym in Boca Raton., because both offenses shot the lights out with WKU shooting 63% to FAU’s 52% in the first half.
The Owls were able to keep it close going into the locker room, in part due to their ability to get rebounds over the Hilltoppers. FAU outrebounded WKU 14-7 and 6-to-0 on the offensive boards, leading to eight second chance points while WKU had zero.
The Owls’ big man Vladislav Goldin was able to get into the body of the Hilltoppers’ big man Jamarion Sharp, getting easy shots at the rim and creating space for his teammates to get to the paint easily. FAU scored 20 points in the paint in the first half. His play ultimately kept Sharp off the scoreboard for the whole game.
WKU led 36-33 at halftime.
The Hilltoppers came out of the second half flatfooted, turning the ball over twice in the first two minutes when they only had three for the entire first half. Fortunately for WKU, FAU was not able to take advantage as the Hilltoppers kept the lead early.
McKnight proceeded to get hot, turning his mid-range hall of fame badge on and knocking in baskets from the mid-range and at the rim. His play opened up lanes for him to pass when needed and his teammates knocked down open shots.
WKU was methodically attacking the FAU defense, particularly finding whoever sophomore Bryan Greenlee was guarding. Justice and McKnight took turns backing down Greenlee, finding their shot.
The turnovers and three-pointers came back to bite the Hilltoppers as the Owls took the lead, with 6:01 left, off of back-to-back threes to cap off a 7-0 run in 40 seconds. FAU didn’t slow down, raising their lead up to nine points.
“We had some defensive lapses; guys not rotating, missing box outs, stuff like that,” Justice said. “It’s something we have to check ourselves.”
WKU didn’t quit, starting to be aggressive again and brought itself back to a one-possession game after a made three from senior Josh Anderson with 2:01 left. The Hilltoppers had multiple chances from multiple players to tie the game, but the shots just didn’t fall.
The Owls finished the game on a 8-0 run, slamming the door shut for any chance of a Hilltopper comeback.
FAU hit eight threes in the second half after only hitting three in the first. WKU only hit two in the second half after hitting seven in the first. FAU outscored WKU 38-26 in the paint and 16-1 in second chance points.
WKU will conclude its Florida trip Saturday evening, this time in Miami to take on Florida International. The Hilltoppers defeated FIU 84-71 in Diddle Arena earlier this season on Jan 8. Tip off for Saturday’s game is set for 6 p.m. CT.
Men’s Basketball Reporter Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.