WKU Men’s Basketball wins seventh game in a row despite second half struggles


Arthur H. Trickett-Wile

Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight (20) looks for a play against the Florida Atlantic Owls Thursday evening, Feb. 10, 2022, in Diddle Arena. WKU won the match 76-69.

Rob Holmes, Sports Reporter

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (17-11, C-USA 9-6) won its seventh consecutive game against the Old Dominion Monarchs (10-17, C-USA 5-9) 73-64 Saturday night at Diddle Arena. 

WKU was short handed tonight as Jaylen Butz missed his second straight game and starting forward Jairus Hamilton exited the game after suffering an apparent leg injury.

“We talked about our fifth game in 10 days [at halftime],” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We’re not going to let fatigue be a reason why we lose this game. It’s easy for us to have an excuse.”

WKU had a quick turnover on the first possession of the game before going on the 7-0 to shift the momentum right back in its favor.  

The Hilltoppers got off to a hot start, with a double-digit lead in the opening minutes of the game. Sophomore Dayvion McKnight was a one-man show as he dropped 17 points in the first half. He made each bucket look easy, making 8-of-13 field goals. He finished the game with 23 points and seven rebounds. 

“I feel like my teammates trust me,” McKnight said. “Whenever they want me to get downhill to try to score and make the best play happen, I feel like buckets come easy and naturally.”

WKU’s defense complemented its offense in the first half. ODU shot 11-of-32 (34.2%) and didn’t find a rhythm to chip away at the lead. ODU’s top scorer senior C.J. Keyser was held in check, making 3-of-9 attempts for only five first-half points. Keyser finished the game with 11 points. 

WKU shot well from three-point land, draining five of their first 11 attempts. ODU was the complete opposite from behind the arc. The Monarchs couldn’t find their rhythm behind the arc in the first half, shooting 4-of-12. WKU took a commanding 44-30 lead into the locker room.  

The Hilltoppers went on a 9-0 run in the first five minutes of the second half, taking a 20-point lead. Junior Jamarion Sharp dominated both ends of the paint as the game progressed with emphatic jams and multiple swats that allowed WKU’s lead to stay comfortable.

The Monarchs finally made a run under 10 minutes, capitalizing on Sharp getting in foul trouble. ODU’s man-to-man defense was getting torched so it switched to a 2-3 zone, putting the Hilltoppers on a couple of scoring droughts, one lasting seven minutes. WKU was 1-of-13 from the field during that stretch and ODU took full advantage, going on a 13-2 run to cut the lead 63-57 with 3:07 left in the game.

ODU had all the momentum, until senior Josh Anderson’s put-back slam allowed WKU to get the crowd involved and was the dagger, ending ODU’s late-game push.

Junior Isaiah Cozart played a big role off the bench, filling in for Sharp. Cozart’s impact went beyond the stat sheet, getting multiple stops inside and coming up with two important offensive rebounds late in the game that led to WKU points. 

“Our coach has a motto, ‘Stay ready no matter the situation,”’ Cozart said. “When guys don’t have as much playing time as our main six guys, you always want to be able to be locked in and be able to come off the bench and impact the game any way possible.”

The Hilltoppers get a much-needed week off before their next game against Middle Tennessee on the road Saturday at 6 p.m. 

Sports Reporter Rob Holmes IV can be reached at [email protected].