WLU Men Capture Huge MEC Win
Toppers defeat Fairmont State
WEST LIBERTY — Before every game, West Liberty coach Ben Howlett stresses how important each one is to his young Hilltoppers squad.
Wednesday night was another test for his team as rival Fairmont State paid a visit to the ASRC. West Liberty passed with flying colors.
The Hilltoppers won their sixth straight game, had five players in double figures and overcame some foul trouble to capture a huge Mountain East Conference victory against the Falcons, 105-99.
“It’s a really good win for our program. For our young guys,” Howlett said. “I try to tell these guys before every game how important each game and each opponent are because a lot of these guys don’t know how certain things work with conference play and regional play.
“This was a really big win for us against Fairmont. They got some good quality wins under their belt and this was a pretty serious game for us that we almost needed to win. It puts us in a good position conference-wise. Just the effort these guys showed (Wednesday). It’s a typical Fairmont, West Liberty game.
“It seems like whenever we play those guys, they have a guy that gets unconscious. (Wednesday), it was Kenzie Melko. I thought a lot of times we played pretty good defense on him and he made tough shots. But, credit to our guys. Everyone really bought into our game plan.”
The Hilltoppers (12-3, 7-2 MEC) never trailed during the contest, but like always, the Falcons also had a spark when the game seemed to be getting away from them. After a Melko bucket, the Hilltoppers ripped off eight straight points sparked by a Luke Dyer 3-pointer. Bryce Butler ended the spurt with a basket to put the score at 83-71 with 7:52 remaining. However, Fairmont State was able to cut the lead to four, (97-93) with 1:26 to go. West Liberty, though was able to sink it’s free throws to virtually put the game way.
With the game still in hand, Fairmont State was charged with a technical foul with 11.5 seconds remaining because it tried to call a time out on a loose ball when they had none left.
Dalton Bolon then sunk a pair to make it a three-possession game (104-96).
The victory was also the first of the season where the Hilltoppers won by single digits. In it’s previous five victories, West Liberty won by an average of 37 points.
“We do a lot of three-minute games in practice. We put a certain score on the scoreboard and we say, ‘Play it out.’ But, there’s no crowd and it doesn’t mean anything if you lose,” Howlett said. “(Wednesday), it actually meant something to play in one of those games. We had a tough, close game against Charleston where we ended up on the losing end. We lost a close game to Wesleyan here at home. So, we were 0-2 in close games, now we are 1-2. Again, we beat a well-coached, with a bunch of good players on this Fairmont team. Hopefully, this will keep propelling us for the next couple games and see if we can get better on Saturday.”
The Hilltoppers also had to overcome foul adversity as Will Yoakum, Preston Boswell, Pat Robinson III and Dyer all played the majority of the second half with four fouls. Dyer eventually fouled out with about 7:40 to go.
“It was tough,” Howlett said. “The good thing was a lot of our guards were in foul trouble. We’ve got plenty of guards to put in the game. I thought the officials actually did a really good job. We just got to do a better job defensively.”
Robinson led the way for the Hilltoppers with 23 points going 10 of 13 from the floor while Boswell had arguably his best game as a Hilltoppers turning in a 20-point performance. Malik McKinney supplied 17 points, Yoakum netted 15 and Bryce Butler had 11.
“Making shots wise, yeah,” Boswell said about it being his best performance at West Liberty. “I’ve just been getting up extra shots and our guys like Pat and Dalton get in the lane. Everybody dives in on them. I was just spotting up and I was getting wide-open shots. They did a good job finding me. It was just as much them as me making shots.”
Melko led the way for the Falcons with 30 points while Isaiah Sanders netted 26. Dale Bonner secured 18 points and Cole VonHandorf supplied 12.