Tops rally late past Alabama State in season opener

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 11:28 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - WKU Hilltopper Basketball found itself behind in its season opener Tuesday, but a late 9-0 run helped secure a 79-74 win over Alabama State at E.A. Diddle Arena.

“Sometimes you just got to find ways to win,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “It wasn’t pretty, we didn’t shoot it particularly well at all. The one thing we did do tonight, we got to the free-throw line, just didn’t make them. We go 17-for-30, we only attempted 26 free throws in the first two (exhibitions). That was one thing we wanted to do tonight was get there. We got there, just go to be more consistent.

“Our guys found a way to stay together when they’re down. And they’ll learn a lot from that. That game can carry and help them in other games when they get down. Never give up and keep fighting.”

The Hilltoppers (1-0) trailed by as much as 14 in the first half and faced a 63-61 deficit with 4:25 left.

Sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight put WKU back up by one with a three-point play, and his two free throws capped the 9-0 run to make it a 70-63 lead with 1:30 remaining.

McKnight finished with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. Senior forward Jairus Hamilton led WKU with 21 points, while seniors Jaylen Butz and Josh Anderson each scored 12 points with 13 rebounds between them.

“Towards the end of the game, I always want the ball in my hands,” McKnight said. “I trust my teammates, I always find the open person and me driving and attacking will put us in a good position to score.”

Alabama State (0-1) used an early 12-0 run to take a 14-5 lead, and eight straight points from Trace Young later made it 32-18 Hornets with 5:14.

WKU finished the first half with a 13-4 spurt to trim its deficit to 36-31, but Alabama State again answered with a 7-0 run out of the break.

The lead was 54-42 Hornets with 12:40 to play, but 3-pointers by McKnight and sophomore guard Sherman Brashear and a putback dunk by Anderson cut it to six at 56-50.

Another Brashear 3 made it 59-57 with 8:09 to go, and McKnight finally pulled the Tops back ahead at 64-63 with a basket and the free throw.

WKU led by seven with 90 seconds left, but Alabama State continued to pour in 3s and made it a one-possession game in the waning seconds. The Hilltoppers finished it out at the free-throw line, netting 14 of 20 attempts in the second half.

“It helps us a lot, helps us really understand how we have to come out more aggressive and not be so lackadaisical,” Hamilton said of the close win. “It also lets us know how to execute and how to really lock in and get a win when things are not going our way.”

Young paced Alabama State with 23 points and nine rebounds.

WKU heads on the road for early tournament action in the Asheville Championship in Asheville, N.C. The Hilltoppers open play against Minnesota at 5:30 p.m. CT Friday on ESPNU.

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