WKU wins third straight game, beating FIU 70-59

The WKU Men’s Basketball returned home for the first time in nine days and picked up its first...
The WKU Men’s Basketball returned home for the first time in nine days and picked up its first conference home win this year, beating FIU 70-59 on Saturday night.(Kaden Gaylord-Day)
Published: Jan. 14, 2023 at 10:57 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - The WKU Men’s Basketball returned home for the first time in nine days and picked up its first conference home win this year, beating FIU 70-59 on Saturday night.

“Sometimes, you just have to find a way to win,” said interim head coach Phil Cunningham. Head coach Rick Stansbury continued to be out due to a health matter.

“In league play, FIU is really good,” continued Cunningham. “We knew how good they’re playing and their talented roster. We made a run at the end of the first half that looked like we may have some momentum here. Man, they cut us right back to start the second half and we struggled to score. Give them credit, coming in if we’re not the best, we’re one of the best teams in the league at not turning the ball over. In the assist to turnover ratio, we’re probably at the top of the league. And on the flip side of that, they’re one of the best teams at turning their opponent over and creating turnovers. It was a battle of those two dynamics and they won that. We turned the ball over way too much and that’s how they got that lead… We found a way to break through. A lot of individual effort but collectively we found a way to break through and pull out a win there at the end. A great finish and way to end the game, we needed that going into Monday night.”

For the just the third time this season, WKU’s opponent scored first. The Hilltoppers quickly responded with a back-and-forth game.

WKU (11-6, 3-3 C-USA) used a 12-4 run between the eight-minute mark and the four-minute mark to take and extend its lead to 30-26. The Hilltoppers scored the final five points of the half, making the score 35-29 headed into halftime.

Midway through the second half, the Panthers scored 12 straight between 15:36 to 11:08 to take its only second half lead at 46-42. The run was stopped by a 3-pointer from Jairus Hamilton.

As Diddle Arena’s energy intensified, Hamilton’s 3 sparked a WKU 16-4 run that spanned over five minutes. It took the score from 46-42 Panthers to 58-50 Tops in a matter of minutes.

The Hilltoppers kept their foot on the gas, closing the entire half on a 12-5 run, allowing FIU (8-9, 2-4) to score only two field goals in the final four minutes of the game.

WKU stepped up its defense in guarding the 3-point line, holding the Panthers to a 26.1% clip from beyond the arc. The Hilltoppers outrebounded FIU 39-33 and the bench outscored FIU’s 21-4.

The Hilltoppers outscored the Panthers in both halves, the first time WKU has done that all conference play.

Four Tops were in double-figure scoring on Saturday night. Hamilton had 12 points and seven rebounds; Luke Frampton had 10 with four rebounds, three assists; Dayvion McKnight had the team-high 14 points with four assists and five boards; and Jordan Rawls had 11 on the board.

Junior Khristian Lander earned his first start as Emmanuel Akot was out due to a head injury. Lander scored eight points, including two crucial 3′s near the start of the game.

“It felt great,” said Lander. “‘It’ being my first career start. So, it was pretty exciting moment for me, but I just knew I had to step up and fill in [Emmanuel’s] shoes in the starting spot.”

Tyrone Marshall was also a force to be reckoned with on defense, pulled down six boards and blocking four shots.

WKU held the conference’s second-leading scorer Denver Jones to well-below his average as he scored just nine points. Arturo Dean led the Panthers with 18 points and nine boards.

The Hilltoppers will host (RV) Florida Atlantic on Monday night at 6 p.m. CT inside E.A. Diddle Arena. With the chance Florida Atlantic is ranked come Monday evening, it would be the first time WKU has hosted a ranked opponent since hosting and beating #15 Wisconsin on December 29, 2018.  The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

“Come out, everyone, come out,” said Hamilton on Monday night’s game. “We’re excited; FAU’s been playing great this year, we know that we’re ready to play them as much as they’re ready to play us. Man, it’s going to be a red out. Everyone’s going to be back on campus, we’re going to need this thing packed up. We’re going to need all the help we can get on Monday night. So, we’re definitely ready, we’re definitely prepared, very excited, let’s go out there and play ball.”