BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball took control in the second half Saturday, running away to an 81-66 win over UT Martin at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Hilltoppers (3-3) trailed by four at halftime and by five with 10:38 to play in the game, but they outscored the Skyhawks 29-9 the rest of the way.
The big blow was a 19-4 spurt that turned a 57-52 deficit into a 71-61 lead with 3:01 to go following a layup by graduate senior guard Camron Justice.
“Late in the game, they inserted another shooter, the only way they were going to come back and beat us was if they made 3s,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We went small ourselves so we could switch and all that stuff and hope they don’t shoot quite as well, and I don’t think they shot it quite as well down that stretch in the second half. And a key was, we kept them off the foul line. When you shoot all 3s, you don’t get to the foul line. I think they attempted one all day, we (took) 19. That’s the difference.”
Senior forward Jairus Hamilton led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds, making 8 of 15 shots and 7 of 10 free throws.
“I just wanted to do anything that helped us win the game,” Hamilton said. “Whatever is needed for us to get a W, whatever the team needs me to do, whether that’s rebounding, creating for other people, playing defense, guarding their best defender, whatever I’ve got to do for us to win, that’s what I’m going to come and do. That’s part of my job on the team and I take pride in my job.”
Hamilton was one of four Hilltoppers in double figures, including Justice who added 17 points off the bench with four assists and no turnovers.
Redshirt senior guard Luke Frampton and sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight each tallied 16 points, while McKnight also chipped in six assists and five rebounds.
Junior center Jamarion Sharp finished with six points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
UT Martin (3-4) made eight 3-pointers in the first half and led by as much as eight, while the Hilltoppers racked up 10 turnovers on their way to a 38-34 hole at the break.
WKU still trailed by five with 10:38 remaining, but Hamilton had a dunk and McKnight scored on a jumper, sandwiched around 3s from Justice and McKnight.
That 10-0 run eventually became a 19-4 surge, and the Tops put the game away by netting 9 of 12 free throws in the second half.
“I think that started with the defensive adjustment we made,” Justice said. “We made the adjustment to go small, to pull Jamarion away from the goal. When we got that ball to (Jairus) at the five, it was just easier to penetrate and get down in the paint because they were pulled out. Once we started getting in there and getting down in the paint, guys were making plays, finishing at the rim, just doing what we need to do.”
WKU made 16 of 19 free throws for the game and shot 50.9% from the field. It outrebounded UT Martin 40-30 and outscored the Skyhawks 38-20 in the paint.
Darius Simmons had 21 points to lead UT Martin, which made 13 of 32 3-point attempts.
WKU’s long homestand continues next week against Rhodes College at 7 p.m. CT Tuesday at Diddle Arena. The game will stream on ESPN+ and air locally on WKU PBS in Bowling Green.
Med Center Health
The 2021-22 WKU Basketball season is proudly presented by Med Center Health. Med Center Health has served Southcentral Kentucky for more than 90 years, and its system of care includes six acute care hospitals, a comprehensive network of physician practices and clinics, and hundreds of area physicians offering care in dozens of specialties. From emergency treatment to preventative care, Med Center Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the communities it serves. Learn more at medcenterhealth.org.