Hilltoppers Edge Shepherd
Victory is 25th straight against the Rams
WEST LIBERTY — It didn’t happen the way West Liberty normally does its business, but the result ended up being the same anyway.
Led by 20 points and nine rebounds from Dalton Bolon, the cold-shooting No. 8 Hilltoppers (7-1 overall, 5-0 Mountain East Conference) made just enough plays down the stretch Wednesday night at the ASRC to extend their winning streak against Shepherd (5-3, 2-3) to 25 in a row with a 96-94 victory. WLU struggled through its worst shooting night of the still-young season, connecting on 44 percent of it shots, 30 percent of its 3-pointers and 70 percent from the foul line.
”Disappointed in the way we played because I thought we were ready to go in practice this week,” Coach Ben Howlett said. ”I certainly hope our guys weren’t looking ahead to Sunday (a showdown at Fairmont).
”I challenged our guards at halftime. I thought our guards were really bad in the first half. I got into them and I think Yahel Hill responded and had a great second half.”
Trailing 43-41 at the halftime, West Liberty scored 10 of the second half’s first 14 points, with four of those coming off the right hand of the true freshman Hill.
The Hilltoppers lead reached as high as 12 on an Eric Meininger 3-pointer that made it 70-58. Yet down the stretch the Rams managed to make it a one-possession game. Derek McKnight, who scored a game-high 32 points before fouling out late, made three free throws to trim the deficit to 92-91.
”Going down the stretch I think our seniors had a lot to do with this,” Howlett said. ”Tyler Primmer was uneblievable and Eric Meininger was really good in the second half.
”I think those two guys kind of pulled us together and made sure that we were playing West Liberty basketball.”
A Will Yoakum free throw put WLU up, 92-88, with 56 seconds to play but McKnight made it a one-possession game with a pair of free throws at the 49-second mark.
Shepherd had a chance to tie when West Liberty missed on its next possession and fouled McKnight going for the rebound with 31 seconds to play. McKnight made the first but the second one spun out and Bolon was fouled as he pulled down the rebound.
Bolon hit a pair from the line and WLU forced a contested McKnight 3-point try that was off the mark. Bolon went back to the line and cashed two more before the Rams’ Thomas Lang banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final score.
Shepherd managed to take West Liberty out of its game for long stretches. Known for their crisp ball movement and sharp cutting around the basket, the Hilltoppers settled for more of a 1-on-1 game.
”I don’t think we played well and we were able to beat a good conference team with a 5-2 record coming in here,” Howlett said. ”The ball was sticking on the perimeter. When pass the ball and we move we’re a really good basketball team.
”We don’t have too many 1-on-1 guys — Yahell is probably our best one. But when other guys try to go 1-on-1 that’s not who we are. We don’t recruit that.
”We want guys who are able to play team basketball and are able to move without the basketball in their hands. We had too much 1-on-1, but you’ve got to give Shepherd some credit there too.”
Known for blitzing teams with patented scoring runs, West Liberty was hit with an 11-0 one by Shepherd that turned a 30-23 lead into a 34-30 deficit. Primmer stopped the slide with three of his 16 points in 18 minutes, but late in the half the Rams scored seven straight before settling for a 43-41 halftime cushion.
“I’ve been in a lot of these games here,” Primmer said. “And I just think back to when I was a freshman, take what I learned from the older guys back then and pass it along to our guys.
”It’s all about doing whatever it takes to help us win. We didn’t shoot it very well and we gave up some easy baskets in transition but in the end, we still found a way to get the win.”
Yoakum backed Bolon with 17 points and six rebounds while Hill and Primmer scored 16 each. Meininger finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Shepherd post Winston Burgess gave WLU fits all night, ending with 22 points and eight rebounds in support of McKnight. Jon Preston and Lang rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Rams with 11 apiece.
Fairmont State 95
Wheeling Jesuit 80
WHEELING–The Wheeling Jesuit University men’s basketball team fell to Fairmont State in a Mountain East Conference (MEC) matchup.
Freshman guard Steve Cannady led five players in double-figures with a season-high 19 points. Fellow freshmen guards Jay Gentry and Franck Kamgain added 18 and 14 points, respectively. Sophomore guard Brendan Hoban tossed in 14 points, while freshman forward Tariq Woody chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.