WKU Hilltopper basketball advances to C-USA Championship quarterfinals

WKU Hilltopper basketball advances to C-USA Championship quarterfinals
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 10:02 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - WKU Hilltopper Basketball overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the UTEP Miners on Wednesday night 73-67, advancing to the Conference USA Championship quarterfinals.

“We sure didn’t get off on the kind of start we planned on getting off to, that’s for sure,” said head coach Rick Stansbury on the game. “We got down 16 early in that half… it was a bad start. That’s not the kind of start you want on the road against a really good defensive team. That team doesn’t allow a lot of points. But our guys didn’t panic. It’s a long game at that point, there’s still 30 minutes left in the game and we kept pecking away. The key was that we got back to a manageable number right there before half. Then the first four minutes of the second half, you’ve got to win it. And our guys won it.”

After starting the game 4-4, the Miners used an 18-2 run over four minutes and 46 seconds to take a 22-6 lead by the 11:54 mark. WKU called a timeout to stop the bleeding. The Hilltoppers opened the game just making 1 of their first 10 attempts while the Miners converted 7 of 11.

The Hilltoppers responded with nine straight of their own to cut into the Miner lead at 22-15 with 8:14 on the clock, forcing UTEP to call a timeout.

The Miners pushed their lead as high as 14 points against before WKU (17-15) held them scoreless for the final three minutes. In that span, the Hilltoppers scored eight points cutting the halftime score to just a 34-28 deficit.

Dayvion McKnight only played seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble while Jamarion Sharp was also limited in minutes due to the same reason.

“Bring energy,” said McKnight of his mentality after sitting a good chunk of the first half. “Bring a lot of energy. Sitting on the bench the first half, having my guys go to war, the thing I could’ve done is just brought energy and be smart. Just lead those guys like I did because they trust me.”

The teams exchanged baskets to start the second half and WKU began to chip away at the UTEP (14-18) lead. The ball game ended up tied at 47-all with 9:54 on the clock and WKU took off on a 9-1 run to solidify its lead at 56-48 with 7:06 remaining.

The Miners would come within three points in the final minutes and seconds, but an and-one play by Emmanuel Akot with six seconds left finished off the game.

UTEP outrebounded WKU 44-35. The Hilltoppers drew 21 Miners’ fouls and made 20 of their 30 free throw attempts to UTEP’s 4 of 10 mark.

Jairus Hamilton did suffer a high ankle injury midway through the second half and did not return to the game. With injury and foul trouble, Tyrone Marshall Jr. and Fallou Diagne saw increased minutes off the bench with 23 and nine, respectively.

WKU had five players in double-figure scoring for the first time since November.

Sharp led WKU in scoring and rebounding for the second consecutive game with 16 points and eight boards. He also blocked three shots and made six free throws.

McKnight scored 13, all in the second half, and dished out seven assists to just three turnovers.

Dontaie Allen went 4 of 7 from the arc and scored 14 points to go along with his four boards.

UTEP was paced by Calvin Solomon who had 18 points and eight rebounds.

WKU will now face top-seeded Florida Atlantic in the quarterfinals on Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m. CT. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.