With the energy from the sold out crowd at E.A. Diddle Arena and an emotional speech from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers’ basketball team defeated the Louisville Cardinals 82-72 last Saturday afternoon.
“At the end of the day, there is a lot of excitement out here, a lot of excitement,” Hilltoppers’ head coach Rick Stansbury said. “But it is still a game, it’s a game. When you drive out here, some of you folks that haven’t seen some things, drive by some of those communities. See how our communities got destroyed. So, hopefully for a few hours, the excitement before the game, the excitement during the game, a lot of them are still excited. We got our mind off of it for a little bit. Winning and losing, let’s be real about it, way too much put on it. It’s a game.
It’s the Hilltoppers’ first win ever against the Cardinals at E.A, Diddle Arena. The last time that WKU defeated Louisville in Bowling Green was in 1950. The Hilltoppers have defeated four teams in a row at home: Boston College, Wisconsin, Arkansas and now Louisville, that are from a Power Five Conference.
In the 1st Half, both teams were making shots beyond the 3-point line as both teams each made nine from behind the arc. WKU shot 55.6% making 15 of their 27 shots and seven of their eight free throws, shooting 87.5%. The Cardinals made 14 of their 33 shots from the floor, shooting 42.4%, and did not shoot a single free throw.
Hilltoppers’ graduate student Cameron Justice connected on all five of his 3-point shots for a game high of 18 points with senior Jairius Hamilton, who made two of his four 3-pointers, scoring 11 points. Louisville senior Noah Locke led the team with nine points as WKU, who led wire to wire with their biggest lead being at 14, led 46-37 at the end of the 1st Half.
Just like in the 1st Half, the second would be filled with runs as Louisville came out of halftime with a 10-0 run that cut their deficit down to three, 50-47 with 16:43 to go. But Justice’s traditional three-point play ignited a 7-0 run for WKU and then a 9-0 run late in the half led them to their biggest lead of the game, 75-60 with 4:53 to play.
Fifth year senior Josh Anderson and sophomore Dayvion McKnight each scored 10 points for the Hilltoppers with Justice adding seven as the team, who did not score a field goal in the final 3:25 but made enough free throws as the Cardinals couldn’t make shots and used too much clock for the 82-72 victory.
The Hilltoppers made 24 of their 47 shots from the floor, shooting 50% including connecting on nine of their 18 shots from beyond the 3-point line. They had a huge advantage over Louisville at the free throw line as they made 25 of their 31 attempts from the line, shooting 80.6%.
Five players scored in double figures for WKU as Cameron Justice’s game high of 25 points.
“For everyone here and the environment we had is just a testament to this city and the support they have for this university,” Cameron Justice said “With everything that is going on outside of this arena, it’s tragic people need help, support, you know, and for them to be here and support us the way they did from start to finish is just unbelievable.”
Junior Jamarion Sharp was a force in the blocks as he scored 14 points with eight rebounds and four blocks. They also got 13 points each from: Josh Anderson, Jarius Hamilton and Dayvion McKnight.
“With the tragedy that happened this past weekend, I feel like the community came together,” Dayvion McKnight said. “We came together as players and just wanted to win and do as much as we can on the court.”
The Cardinals shot 42.2% from the floor, making 27 of their 64 shots including hitting 13 of their 36 shots from the 3-point line. They also made five of their seven free throw attempts, shooting 71.4%.
Noah Locke, the transfer from Florida, scored a team high of 20 points with 12 points from graduate student Mason Faulkner, who graduated from Caverna High School, and 10 points from sophomore Matt Cross.