No. 1 West Liberty Survives Scare

WEST LIBERTY – In many ways, Saturday afternoon’s Mountain East Conference battle with visiting Concord was anything but typical for West Liberty University.

After all, the No. 1 ranked Hilltoppers failed to score 100 points for only the second time in nine contests while also playing its closest game of the campaign.

However, when all was said and done the one constant that remained was Coach Jim Crutchfield’s squad recording another victory.

Sophomore Seger Bonifant dropped in a game-high 26 points while former Wheeling Park all-stater Bubby Goodwin added 17 off the bench as West Liberty overcame a 17-point first half deficit to hold off the Mountain Lions by a 97-92 count at the ASRC.

The victory is the ninth in as many tries for the Hilltoppers and the fifth in conference play while Concord, which never trailed by more than 10 points on the afternoon, dropped to 5-6 overall and 2-3 in the MEC.

“When you get into league play everyone is ready to play,” Crutchfield said. “And they all have plenty of talent, shooters and kids with enough height to dunk the ball. We played just well enough to win (Saturday).”

Coach Kent McBride’s squad stunned West Liberty early with freshman BJ Hamlet bombing in four early 3-pointers and Terry Hopewell registering a pair of monster slams as the visitors built a 41-24 advantage at the 9:12 mark of the first half.

That is when things began changing as Goodwin (9 points), Bonifant (6) and C.J. Hester (6) were the ringleaders of a 32-10 spurt that actually gave the Hilltoppers their biggest lead of the opening 20 minutes, 56-51, at the break.

It was a deep Bonifant 3 at the 2:35 mark the put the Toppers in front for the first time and another trey from the Hiland graduate that gave West Liberty the lead for good with 1:06 to go in the half.

“Coaches will talk about guys they see shooting the ball around in the gym all the time, but that is exactly what you see from Seger (Bonifant) and Bubby (Goodwin),” Crutchfield added. “Those kids are in here an hour early shooting.

“Both of them were big in the first half going 4 of 4 on 3s, and I can tell you that is not a coincidence, it is from a lot of hard work.”

Crutchfield’s crew was able to get the margin to 10 at 70-60 on a pair of Bonifant charity tosses with 14:32 to play, but that turned out to be their biggest lead of the game.

It was still a 91-89 game on a pair of free throws from Concord’s Mike Boyd with 3:41 showing, however, West Liberty closed on a 6-3 run for the final outcome. Shawn Dyer’s free throw with 19 ticks to go gave the hosts their five-point cushion.

“Concord played very well and hard and shot the ball well and we can live with that,” Crutchfield said. “We just made too many mistakes with the ball and didn’t rebound very well defensively. There were mistakes that just aren’t normal for us, but in the end we beat a decent team.

“They managed to get the ball through our press, but I think a big key was all the fouls that were called in the second half that made a significant difference in the tempo of the game. That kind of slowed us down and didn’t allow us to wear them down like we like to do.

“But we did finish the game pretty well, and played better defense down the stretch to get it done.”

West Liberty finished with five double-figure scorers with Hester scoring 15, Cedric Harris 13 and Keene Cockburn 10 to back Bonifant and Goodwin. The Hilltoppers were also outrebounded badly, 50-32, with the Lions grabbing 21 offensive boards.

Hopewell’s 19 paced Concord while Hamlet and Boyd chipped in 18 each and A.J. Williams finished with 14. Both Williams (11) and Hopewell (12) were big on the glass and completed double-doubles on the afternoon.