Jairus Hamilton at the free throw line versus Rice (Photo: Drew Toennies/InsideHilltopperSports.com) (Drew Toennies)
Western Kentucky (10-6, 2-1 C-USA) defeated conference foe Rice (9-6, 2-2 C-USA) at E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday night by a final score of 80-66.
Western Kentucky held Rice to only 24 points in the second half and just 1-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Hilltoppers bounced back from a 13-point deficit in the first half to establish their seventh straight win over Rice.
“It changed at the 10-minute mark for us. 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.”
— Rick Stansbury
Jairus Hamilton led the Hilltoppers with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Josh Anderson finished off the night with 17 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight chipped in with a double-double, recording 13 points, 12 assists, and five rebounds to go along with two steals.
The Owls’ offense was red-hot in the first half, particularly from three-point range, but couldn’t stay consistent throughout the game.
Freshman forward Mylyjael Poteat led the Owls’ in scoring with 15 points and four rebounds.
Travis Evee had 13 points, five assists, and two rebounds.
Chris Mullins finished off the night with 13 points, two rebounds and one steal.
“We had to really go out there and get some stops. 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.”
— Jairus Hamilton
Western Kentucky Shooting Stats (Final stats)
WKU also outrebounded Rice 38-33, turned the ball over eight times, scored 10 points off turnovers and recorded 21 assists.
Rice Shooting Stats (Final stats)
The Owls grabbed 33 rebounds, turned the ball over 11 times, scored 10 points off turnovers and recorded 16 assists.
“We’ve got great players. 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.”
— Josh Anderson
Rice cooking early: The Owls showcased their efficiency from beyond the arc early on in the first half, going 7-of-18 in the opening 20 minutes and establishing a 13-point lead at one point before WKU made a comeback.
Sixth-man of the year: Once Anderson came off the bench and made an immediate impact as he helped WKU cut into that 13-point deficit before halftime by scoring 11 points in the first half.
McKnight delivers: McKnight showcased his athleticism in the first half, finishing with 13 points. He also gave the Hilltoppers a spark of momemtum heading into the locker room after hitting a jumper on fast break at the buzzer to cut Rice’s lead to 42-40.
Western Kentucky Shooting Stats (Halftime stats)
At the half, the Hilltoppers had 15 rebounds, committed six turnovers, scored five points off turnovers and recorded nine assists.
For Rice, Travis Evee was significant contributor for the Owls recording 11 points and four assists.
Quincy Olivari finished the first half with 11 points, two rebounds and one assist.
Rice Shooting Stats (Halftime stats)
At the end of the first half, the Owls had grabbed 15 rebounds, turned the ball over six times, scored nine points off turnovers and had 12 assists.
Strong finish: Western Kentucky came out of the locker room ready to play as they immediately took the lead from Rice thanks to a 13-3 run anchored by Camron Justice, Jamarion Sharp, and Jairus Hamilton.
No push-back from Rice: The Owls had a great first half performance but were unable to compete in the final stretch of play. The Owls’ shot just 29.6% after the break and struggled to get past Sharp and Anderson in the paint.
WKU will be dominant in conference play: Western Kentucky defeated Rice 80-66, recording the seventh consecutive victory against the Owls’. Seeing how the Owls’ defeated UAB on the road in Birmingham, Thursday’s win could be telling of how strong Western Kentucky will be in C-USA play.
The Hilltoppers will close out a three-game homestand on Saturday as the North Texas Mean Green come to town for an afternoon showdown. The opening tip is at 3 p.m. CT and the game will air over Stadium and WKU PBS.