The Western Kentucky men’s basketball team overcame a sluggish start to pull away from UT Martin 81-66 on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

WKU (3-3) trailed at halftime, but closed with a 29-9 run to take control and climb back to .500 on the season.

“Give UT Martin credit, I thought they were really energetic for that 12 o’clock game and we weren’t quite as excited as they were,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “You just have to find ways to win when you are not at your best and I thought we did that.”

Jairus Hamilton, one of four Hilltoppers to finish in double figures, said it took a while to get going.

“It was a very early game,” Hamilton said. “It was our first game playing at 12 o’clock, so we kind of came out a little sluggish. We put more emphasis on bringing energy and it started on the defensive end.”

UT Martin (3-4) led most of the first half, fueled by a barrage of 3-pointers. The Skyhawks were 8-for-16 from 3-point range, including four from junior forward David Didenko, jumping out by as much as eight points.

WKU briefly led 32-30 on a 3 from Camron Justice late in the half before UT Martin closed with an 8-2 spurt to build a 38-34 halftime lead.

“We had 10 turnovers and they had 15 points off of those turnovers,” Stansbury said. “No. 2, their big boy (Didenko) was hitting 3-pointers. He had four of them. That was the difference in the game (in the first half).”

The Hilltoppers got off to a quick start in the second half, with a four-point play by Luke Frampton making the score 48-43 with 14:29 remaining. UT Martin answered with a 14-4 run to push in front 57-52, but WKU responded with 10 straight to take the lead for good.

WKU continued to pull away, holding the Skyhawks to one 3-pointer in the final 10½ minutes.

“We started the second half in a zone, so (Jamarion Sharp) didn’t have to chase (Didenko) around out there,” Stansbury said. “That got us going. Then late in the game they inserted another shooter and the only way they were going to come back and beat us was to make 3s, so we went small ourselves. We could switch all that stuff and hope they don’t shoot quite as well. I don’t think they did shoot quite as well down that stretch in the second half.”

UT Martin finished 26-for-66 from the field, 13-for-32 from 3-point range. Darius Simmons led the Skyhawks with 21 points.

WKU shot 50.9 percent from the field, 17-for-27 in the second half.

Hamilton finished with season highs in points (24) and rebounds (11) to lead the Hilltoppers.

“I just wanted to do anything that helped us win the game,” Hamilton said. “Whatever is needed for us to get a W, whatever the team needs me to do, whether that’s rebounding, creating for other people, playing defense, guarding their best defender, whatever I’ve got to do for us to win. That’s part of my job on the team and I take pride in my job.”

Justice added 17 points in 25 minutes off the bench.

“I’m starting to get back into shape and doing my thing,” Justice said. “I am just trying to do what I need to do for this team to win.”

Dayvion McKnight and Frampton both finished with 16 points each, with McKnight adding a team-high six assists.

WKU will continue its homestand, hosting Rhodes College at 7 p.m. Tuesday.{&end}