West Liberty Rebounds in a Big Way
WEST LIBERTY – With all due respect to the University of Charleston, Saturday’s game at West Liberty’s ASRC was all about the Hilltoppers.
As in, how would they respond to their first loss, and the end of their 60-game unbeaten conference run? Would a single game define West Liberty’s season?
Not a chance.
Cedric Harris scored 25 points and had six assists to lead six players in double figures as the Hilltoppers (17-1 overall, 13-1 Mountain East) rebounded from a loss Thursday to Notre Dame College by rolling the Golden Eagles, 103-71, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score might indicate. West Liberty held Charleston to 28 first-half points on 33.3-percent shooting and opened the second half on an 8-2 run and was never threatened.
”Getting back to West Liberty basketball,” said sophomore Mike Lamberti, who received a spot start and responded with 11 points and six rebounds. ”We knew how (well) we could play because we played like that 16 times earlier in the season.
”It’s never fun to lose, especially when you have had so much success at home, and we wanted to come out and show that this is still our conference.”
Mission accomplished against the MEC’s second-place team, which happened to enter on a league-best eight-game winning streak.
The Hilltoppers, behind an energized starting lineup that included Devin Hoehn, Lamberti and Zak Kirkbride, opened the game with an 8-0 blitz and an 18-4 run toward the end of the first half had the hosts comfortably in front, 50-28, at the half.
”For me as a coach, it was about getting the players to play better than they did last game, and fortunately I only had to wait 48 hours to put a better product on the floor,” WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. ”We played harder, we played smarter and we played with a better level of intensity throughout the entire game.
”They were challenged. Some by the situation, but mostly by me.”
That intensity was evident from the beginning as nearly every basket, forced turnover or defensive stop was met by high-fives, hand slapping and overall exuberance.
”We used it as a motivational tool but there’s nothing we could do about it. That one is over,” said forward C.J. Hester, who notched his 30th career double-double with 14 points and 16 rebounds. ”As soon as we left the locker room after the loss we started taking this one very seriously.
”We maybe didn’t hustle as much (Thursday) so we made it a point to get back to the way we play, and we did that.”
A 12-0 run by Charleston momentarily got the deficit down to 19 (75-66) but the Toppers responded with a 9-2 run to put it on cruise control.
Hoehn added 17 points for the winners, while Keene Cockburn netted 15 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out. Kirkbride had 12 points and Lamberti chipped in 11.
”Against Notre Dame we were standing a lot and the motion offense wasn’t there,” Lamberti said. ”That’s when we’re at our best … setting back-screens, moving and keeping the defense occupied where they can’t help or sag off.
”That way we’re not forcing 25-footers and praying they go in.”
Tino diTrapano (10-for-10 at the free-throw line) paced the Eagles (13-5, 10-6) with 16 points and Denzel Douglas contributed 15. However, big man Aleksander Kesic, normally a thorn in the Toppers’ side, was limited to five points and was 0 of 10 from the field.
”He’s just tortured us. That’s about intensity and keeping him from getting the ball 1 foot from the basket,” Crutchfield said. ”Make him shoot from 8 feet, 9 feet, and contest his shot.
”I thought the pressure we put on kind of wore him down a little bit.”