WKU loses fifth straight game, longest in the Stansbury era

Graduate+guard+Camron+Justice+loses+the+ball+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.%2C+29.+WKU+lost+93-85.

Tucker Covey

Graduate guard Camron Justice loses the ball on Saturday, Jan., 29. WKU lost 93-85.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's Basketball Reporter

WKU (10-11, 2-6 C-USA) lost its fifth straight game and third straight home game 93-85 after Middle Tennessee (14-6, 5-2 C-USA) hit 15 threes, its best shooting performance of the season. This is the longest losing streak in the Rick Stansbury era. 

“Tonight’s the first game I didn’t think we had that juice from the get go,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s not to take anything away from Middle Tennessee. I just [don’t] think we were at the level that you have to be at to beat a good Middle Tennessee team and no fault of them. [If you] blame anybody, always blame the coach, never the players’ fault. Players never miss free throws on purpose, never throw it away on purpose, they don’t do those things on purpose.”

Sophomore Dayvion McKnight led the team with 24 points, 10 assists and five rebounds on 50% shooting. Super senior Josh Anderson scored 17 points, three rebounds and five steals. Senior Jairus Hamilton finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Graduate Josh Jefferson led MTSU with 31 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 7-of-9 from behind the arc. 

With an intense rivalry as this one, you knew there would be a fast-paced start. The teams started trading possessions and buckets, but the Blue Raiders were trading the Hilltoppers’ twos for threes. Twelve of MTSU’s first 13 points came from behind the arc. 

Both teams are two of the top-three leaders in the conference in steals with WKU having the edge and proving that early. In the first eight minutes of the game the Hilltoppers picked the Blue Raiders’ pockets five times to their opponent’s two. 

Four of the first five MTSU three pointers came from unexpected contributors in graduate Donovan Sims and freshman Christian Fussell who came into the game shooting 28.8% and 20% from behind the arc, respectively. 

“This is the best Middle team they’ve had in the last few years, and they’re playing with some confidence,” Stansbury said. “You make 15 out of 26 threes, you’re going to beat most people. Don’t ask me how and why they made them. I guess I did a poor job of getting our guys to guard three-point shots. They had some guys make threes in that first half that basically haven’t made them all year. It just kind of snowballs, they gain confidence from it and take some confidence from us, but our guys kept battling.”

WKU didn’t fold into the abyss, getting six offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities that kept the lead from getting too far out of reach. Free throws were huge for the Hilltoppers, hitting 7-of-11 while the Blue Raiders only attempted two. 

The MTSU offense kept the hot shooting going throughout the entire half, hitting 8-of-14 (57%) three pointers in the first half. The Blue Raiders came into the game at 12th in the conference in three-point shooting percentage, only hitting 29% for the season. MTSU took a 42-37 lead into the locker room. 

The Blue Raiders must’ve had a bottle of their own “secret stuff,” because they came out shooting the lights out, starting 5-of-7 from the field and 5-of-5 from behind the arc. They scored those 15 points in less than five minutes. 

WKU remained aggressive and didn’t let the onslaught that was happening slow down its effort. The Hilltoppers stayed aggressive, allowing them to draw fouls and ultimately put themselves into the bonus with over 12 minutes to go in the half. 

A mix of three pointers and free throws brought WKU back into the game. The Hilltoppers got down by five with under nine minutes to go after being down by 13. After a timeout from the Blue Raiders, they got back into the flow of their offense and went on an 11-2 run that included a four-point play that put them up by 14.  

WKU went on a stretch that brought them within five, but once graduate Camron Justice fouled out with 4:20 left, MTSU was able to score enough to keep the lead and take the win. 

The Blue Raiders shot 57% from the field, 58% from three and 94% (16-of-17) from the free throw line. WKU shot 46% from the field, 42% from three and 16-of-27 from the free throw line, but the Blue Raider brigade was too much. 

“It definitely hurts. You never want to lose games like this, but I think we still have the right mindset. We still have time,” Hamilton said. “Just have to keep fighting and keep fighting, that’s all we are going to keep doing. We’re never going to quit; never quit our whole lives, not going to start now.”

Next week, WKU will hit the road to take on Charlotte and Old Dominion. The matchup against the 49ers will be Thursday at 6 p.m. The matchup against the Monarchs will be Saturday night at 6 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

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