Tops Ride Dominant Second Half to 80-66 Win Over Rice

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — A dominant second half propelled WKU Hilltopper Basketball to an 80-66 win over Rice on Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Hilltoppers (10-6, 2-1 Conference USA) held the Owls to 24 points in the second half and just 1-for-9 from the 3-point line after the break.

That helped turn a 13-point deficit in the first half into WKU’s seventh straight victory over Rice.

“It changed at the 10-minute mark for us,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “The last 10 minutes of the first half, they only made two 3s and we started getting more stops. That’s what allowed us to get out in transition. … We just came out of the locker room in kind of the same way, playing man defense. In that second half, they made one 3, that’s the difference in the game.”

WKU trailed 26-13 with 10:38 left in the first half, but was able to whittle that deficit down to two at the half on sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight’s bucket just before the buzzer.

The Hilltoppers opened the second half with a 3-pointer by graduate senior guard Camron Justice and a dunk by junior center Jamarion Sharp, the start of a 13-3 WKU run that rapidly flipped the script.

“We had to really go out there and get some stops,” senior forward Jairus Hamilton said. “We were out there playing good defense, but they were hitting some good shots and getting offensive rebounds. In the second half, we really just came out and locked in on really getting stops and we did a good job at that.”

After making 7 of 18 3-pointers in the first half, Rice (9-6, 2-2) struggled with 29.6% shooting after halftime and couldn’t keep the Hilltoppers off the free-throw line.

WKU made 17 of 22 shots from the charity stripe and racked up 21 assists on 28 make baskets with just eight turnovers.

Hamilton led all scorers with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while fifth-year senior guard Josh Anderson scored 17 points off the bench and made all 11 of his free throws.

McKnight finished with 13 points, a career-high 12 assists and five rebounds, and Justice and Sharp each scored 12 points.

“We’ve got great players,” Anderson said. “I feel like a lot of guys can just got out and have themselves a night, a big night. Even guys coming off the bench. I just feel like when we’re locked in, we’re a dangerous team.”

Mylyjael Poteat paced Rice with 15 points.

The Hilltoppers finish their homestand Saturday against reigning Conference USA Tournament champion North Texas at 3 p.m. CT. The game will air on Stadium and locally in Bowling Green on WKU PBS.