Hilltoppers come out victorious after hard-fought battle against UAB

Hilltoppers pull out 80-78 victory over UAB
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 11:18 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - From the jump on Wednesday night, WKU Hilltopper Basketball faced challenge after challenge. The Hilltoppers battled for all 40 minutes, overcoming that adversity and beating the league favorite UAB Blazers on their own court, 80-78.

“This is a tremendous win over one of the best teams in the league, predicted to win it” said interim head coach Phil Cunningham. Head coach Rick Stansbury was once again out Wednesday night due to a health matter. “They’re a tremendous team and this was a great home atmosphere for them tonight. This was a game where there was just so much adversity throughout the game, and it hit early. Jairus (Hamilton) gets two fouls, E-Man (Emmanuel Akot) goes out almost immediately with an injury. He’s out for the rest of the game. Then, we’re in foul trouble. So much adversity but these guys, they battled.”

“There was tremendous leadership from our older guys,” Cunningham continued. “Then your young guys stepped up and played. A bunch of them contributed, look at our bench points, that’s the difference in the game.”

The Hilltoppers held the Blazers scoreless for the first three minutes of the game, creating a 7-2 run to open the game. Each time UAB attempted to cut into WKU’s lead, the Tops had an answer.

Eleven minutes into the game, Emmanuel Akot was pulled, and would not return, after sustaining a head injury. His absence caused adversity that the Hilltoppers would continue to overcome throughout the game.

Between the 9:07 and 3:24 marks, the Blazers went on an 11-4 run that gave them a 25-23 lead. WKU responded with a handful of buckets, eventually regaining at 32-30 lead headed into halftime.

WKU (10-6, 2-3 C-USA) held the Blazers to just 37.9% from the floor compared to their season average of 47.6%.

Out of the break, UAB went on a 14-5 run, taking a five-point lead of 45-40 by the 14:22 mark. The run included seven straight points, flipping from a WKU lead of 40-38 to the Blazer edge.

The Hilltoppers actively chipped away at UAB, answering with a basket every time the Blazers attempted to run away with it.

At the 7:42 mark, WKU embarked on an 11-3 run that eventually game them a 67-66 lead with just under five minutes remaining.

The game continued to go back and forth, ultimately having 12 lead changes and seven ties. UAB (12-5, 3-3) tied it up twice in the waning minutes, 70-all with 3:47 left and 73-all with 1:59 left.

Both Jairus Hamilton and Jamarion Sharp fouled out in that time frame, continuing to provide key opportunities for Hilltoppers off the bench to step up in the adversity.

As time ticked away, WKU’s Dontaie Allen hit a long-range 3-pointer from the top of the key with 30 seconds on the clock, giving the Hilltoppers a 76-73 lead.

UAB’s Jelly Walker would hit a 3-pointer with just over a second on the clock, but WKU staved off the Blazers final attempts.

WKU’s bench outscored UAB’s 33-11, with 16 of those points coming at the hands of Jordan Rawls. The senior scored a season high along with four assists against just one turnover in his return from a hand injury.

“The bench is really important,” said Rawls. “Guys coming off the bench, we just stay ready. Be ready to bring that energy and we did that tonight.”

“After I fouled out, all we know is that once one man goes down, another guy has to step up,” added Jamarion Sharp. “Once somebody else steps up, we’ve just got to keep going and keep pushing.”

Dayvion McKnight led the Hilltoppers in scoring with 27 points while Sharp added eight boards, five points, two steals and three blocks.

The Blazers’ Walker led all scorers with 28 points, netting 7 of 15 from beyond the arc.

WKU will return home for two games in a row for the first time this league season. The Hilltoppers will first face FIU on Saturday at 6 p.m. CT inside E.A. Diddle Arena. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.