WEST LIBERTY - The No. 3-ranked West Liberty University men's basketball team got the season off to a flying start Saturday night with a 107-60 blowout victory against Washington Adventist (Md.) at the ASRC.
The game followed a pattern that has grown quite familiar for Hilltoppers fans in recent years as West Liberty's high-pressure defense shocked the Shock (2-1) into a series of turnovers that fed into a WLU offensive explosion.
The Hilltoppers were up 16-6 four minutes into the game and had pushed the lead past 20 points, 33-12, before the 10-minute mark of the opening half. Substituting freely throughout, West Liberty built a 63-28 halftime lead and then opened the second half by wrapping a pair of transition baskets around a Seger Bonifant 3-pointer for the largest lead, 70-28, before coasting home.
West Liberty’s Cedric Harris splits the defense on his way to the basket Saturday night at the ASRC against Washington Adventist.
Coming off three straight 30-win seasons and NCAA Division II Elite Eight runs, Coach Jim Crutchfield has some holes to fill this year with the graduation losses of National Player of the Year Alex Falk along with 1,000-point scorers Chris Morrow and Tim Hausfeld. There will be tougher tests down the road but the Hilltoppers passed their first one with flying colors.
"The system worked," Crutchfield said. "It's the same system we've run for the last 10 years. We had different people in different places (Saturday night) than we've had the past couple of seasons but it's the same philosophy, the same style.
"To be fair to Washington Adventist, I think they have a really nice team but they probably don't see that kind of pressure in their league, especially this early in the season. At halftime I think I saw where they had three assists and 23 turnovers. Our five-man defensive pressure was pretty good. It was probably the key to the game."
It certainly was a team effort for the hosts. All 11 players who dressed for the Hilltoppers scored with seven of them - including all five starters - hitting double-figures. Every player pulled at least one rebound, nine players had at least one assist, nine players finished with at least one steal and no player played more than 24 minutes.
All-American senior guard Cedric Harris led the way with 19 points and five assists - both game-highs - while freshman Zak Kirkbride came off the bench for 16 points and a game-high four steals. Shawn Dyer and Kelvin Goodwin each finished with a dozen points while Bonifant, C.J. Hester and Keene Cockburn checked in with 10 points each.
The Shock, which finished with 26 field goals and 31 turnovers, were led by Martin Wilson and Elliot Meredith with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
"This was a good way to start the season," Crutchfield said. "Everybody played, everybody scored. It was a good team win. That's the way we like it."
West Liberty returns to action Friday when it flies south to visit Sunshine State power Nova Southeastern. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Virginia Union 94
West Liberty 80
GLENVILLE - A hot-shooting Virginia Union squad handed the West Liberty women's basketball team its first loss, outgunning the Lady Hilltoppers at the Glenville State Classic.
Junior guard Ashle Freeman stole the show for the Panthers (1-1) with 39 points and eight steals - both career-highs - as Virginia Union shot 52 percent (35 of 67) from the floor and cashed in 22 of 30 free throws to keep West Liberty at bay.
Freeman poured in 20 of her 39 points in the first half to help the Panthers take a 45-39 lead at halftime. Freeman opened the second half with two free throws and a layup off a steal to push the margin into double-digits, 49-39, and force the Hilltoppers to hit the comeback trail.
West Liberty trimmed the deficit to 55-53 on a pair of Kiki Simpson free throws with 12:48 showing but couldn't come up with enough defensive stops to stay with Virginia Union. Brown's 3-pointer with 5:45 to play produced the largest lead, 78-64, and the Hilltoppers couldn't get the margin under eight points the rest of the way.
Simpson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore center, had a big game in a losing cause with 20 points and 13 rebounds - both career-highs - before fouling out down the stretch. Jenn Mohney tossed in 16 of her 18 points in the first half while Liz Flowers added 13 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Freshman Emily Bucon came off the bench with 12 points and six rebounds in her first extended action while Kailee Howe chipped in with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.