WKU sweeps season series with Charlotte, wins sixth consecutive game


Arthur Trickett-Wile

Sophomore guard Isaiah Range (40) of the ASU Hornets attempts to block a layup by WKU sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight (20) in Diddle Arena on Tuesday evening, Nov. 9 of 2021, during the Hilltoppers’ first match of the season, a nail-biter, which they won 79-74.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's Basketball Reporter

WKU (16-11, 8-6 C-USA) handedly beat Charlotte (13-12, 6-7 C-USA), 77-67, for the second time this season. 

“I like where we’re at with the togetherness we have out there,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “[We have] a lot of different weapons out there, we just have to continue to find ways to stay as healthy as we can and as fresh as we can. These guys deserve a lot of credit for what they’re doing and how they’re handling things and how they are fighting right now. I’m proud of them.”

WKU sophomore Dayvion McKnight led the way again with 22 points, five assists and three rebounds. Graduate Camron Justice finished with 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Senior Jarius Hamilton scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. 

Charlotte certainly remembered how they were dominated in the first matchup and came out the gates with a chip on their shoulder, hitting its first four shots. McKnight’s hot streak rolled over from the last game, scoring or assisting on WKU’s first 11 points. 

WKU went on a run after the first media timeout. The Hilltoppers made anything they wanted all over the court. During that huge run, four different Hilltoppers made a basket, leading to a WKU eight-point lead. 

WKU kept a four-possession lead until junior big man Jamarion Sharp picked up his second foul with 5:10 left in the first half. The 49ers went on a run as soon as Sharp checked out the game, focusing on redshirt freshman big man Aly Khalifa. Charlotte took advantage of him towering over defenders, helping them get within three points. 

The first-half shooting of the Hilltoppers overtook any momentum the 49ers hoped to gain. For the last four minutes of the half, all of WKU’s points came from either the free throw line or behind the three-point line. WKU ended the half on a 14-6 run to take a 47-36 lead into halftime. 

WKU shot 60% from the field and 62% from behind the three-point line for the first half and only shot four free throws. WKU held Charlotte to 45% shooting from the field and behind the arc. Three Hilltoppers finished the first half in double-digit scoring. 

When coming out into the second half, a lot of coaches, including Stansbury, talk about winning the first four minutes and WKU failed to do that. A big reason WKU had a stranglehold on the game the way they did, was because Charlotte’s leading scorer junior Jahmir Young was held to four points in the first half. Young doubled the amount he had in the first in the first four minutes of the second half, including a 6-0 run by himself.  

“They came out and offensively they picked up their intensity,” Justice said. “[They] were making good passes on the back cuts, and maybe we weren’t as locked in as we needed to be, but down the stretch we got it done and got a win.”

WKU started the second half 1-of-7 but kept the lead at arm’s length due to being more aggressive and getting to the foul line. Halfway through the half, WKU went on a big scoring drought because of the 49ers defense. 

Charlotte double-teamed the ball handler when calling for a screen that caused some turnovers, leading to the 49ers going on a 7-0 run that brought them within two points. 

Charlotte’s big man Khalifa picked up his fourth foul at the 8:59 mark which forced the 49ers to lose some size on the court. After they brought it back within two points, a lob to Sharp followed by a three pointer from Justice forced Charlotte to take a timeout. 

“Having him out of the game was huge,” McKnight said. “It opens up the floor for everybody to get downhill, and we didn’t have to worry about a shot blocker.”

The Hilltoppers were able to hit the shots they needed to hit at the right time despite their up-and-down second half. Justice hit a three to put WKU up by 10 with 1:30 left, essentially ending the game.

WKU had another outstanding shooting performance, shooting 55% from the field and 58% from behind the arc and finishing plus 12 from behind the three-point line. WKU outscored Charlotte on the fast break 10-2, but Charlotte had the advantage 15-0 in second chance points. WKU finished the game with under 10 turnovers, totaling eight in this encounter. 

WKU will move on to play its second-to-last home game of the season. The Saturday contest against Old Dominion will be at 6 p.m. The game will be on ESPN+.

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