Hilltoppers Start Season 1-0 After Gritty Win at EKU
RICHMOND, Ky. – In front of the biggest crowd EKU has gathered for a men’s basketball game since 2004, WKU pulled out a 66-60 win in Baptist Health Arena on Thursday night.
“We knew this was going to be a difficult game,” said head coach Rick Stansbury. “I’ve been saying this all fall, there’s nothing better than going on the road and winning, number one. Number two, going on the road against a really good team in a really good environment, it brings out the best and worst in your team. Number three, it galvanizes you. And the last thing, you all have heard me say it all fall, I believe in our team.”
Emmanuel Akot sunk a 3-pointer for the Hilltoppers, just 20 seconds into the game, and the contest was off the races. WKU jumped out to an early 8-3 lead before the Colonels responded with back-to-back 3-pointers.
When the game was tied at 14-all with 12:49 on the clock when the Colonels went off an a 7-0 run to create a 21-14 lead in favor of EKU. The Hilltoppers stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws by Luke Frampton and a layup from Jairus Hamilton, but EKU reacted with two buckets of its own.
WKU was down nine points with 1:30 on the clock but was able to close out the half with four straight points: another layup from Hamilton and a jumper at the buzzer from Dayvion McKnight. The late scoring attempt narrowed the score to 35-30, EKU, heading into halftime.
The Hilltoppers attempted to keep their scoring streak alive by scoring the first four of the second half, closing the game to just 35-34. EKU continued to push back, going on 7-0 run to push its lead back up to eight points.
The Red and White then embarked on a 11-4 run that chipped away at the Colonel lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Khristian Lander then Fallou Diagne gave WKU a 51-49 edge with 10:08 to go.
After two exchanges of the lead, WKU permanently went ahead at the 6:56 mark as Hamilton and Frampton knocked down one more each from long range. The Hilltoppers were able to keep EKU at an arm’s length for the rest of the game. The Colonels got as close as four as time dwindled off the clock.
“That’s why you play for 40 minutes,” said Stansbury. “20 minutes, we would’ve been in trouble. But it’s a 40-minute game. Games are about runs and emotion. We had those emotional runs in the first half. In the second half, they shoot 29%. We shoot 56%.”
“I think the biggest we learned is that we just have to stick together for 40 minutes,” said Frampton. “They might have gone on a run, but as long we stay together and do what we do, we know what we’re capable of.”
“I think we were just playing with will out there. It was a tough first half,” said Hamilton. “The first game of the year, we didn’t want to come out with an L, so we knew it was going to be an uphill battle. We knew the moment was here and we had to take advantage of it. I thought we fought hard, brought the energy up and we got the W.”
WKU shot 58.8% from the arc, netting 10 of 17 shots. The Hilltoppers also outscored the Colonels on the fast break 21-5.
Frampton led the team, scoring 21 points on only eight shots. He made 5 of 6 3-pointers, just one 3-point shot and one point shy of his WKU career bests.
“I was just taking open shots. Taking what they were giving me, I didn’t really force anything. I was just shooting open shots. Credit to my teammates for setting screens and getting me open because without them, it’s not possible.”
Hamilton narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds and 11 points. He added three assists and two steals to his stat line as well. McKnight stuffed the sheet with 11 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals to start the 2022-23 season.
EKU had a balanced scoring night with five men in double figures: Cooper Robb (11), DaShawn Jackson (10), Devontae Blanton (10), Michael Moreno (10) and Tashawn Corner (10).