West Liberty Basketball: McKinney’s Buzzer-Beater Sends Hilltoppers To Mountain East Finals
By KYLE LUTZ
WHEELING — Even with only 4.9 seconds on the clock against Glenville State in the Mountain East Conference Tournament semifinals, West Liberty’s Malik McKinney believed he had all the time in the world. After receiving a pass from Pat Robinson, he applied a pump fake and had an open look at the basket. Behind the 3-point arc, he let the ball sail from his hands and as the buzzer sounded, the ball hit nothing but net to send the Hilltoppers to the MEC Tournament championship game with a 95-92 victory over the Pioneers Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.
West Liberty will have a shot to defend its tournament title as it will play Fairmont State at 4:30 p.m.
The Falcons defeated Charleston, 84-69, in the other semifinal matchup.
“Coach (Ben Howlett) says when we have the ball and it’s late, hurry up and get it out because they were pressing. That’s the best way to beat the press,” McKinney said. “Pat (Robinson) got it up the sidelines and I didn’t see anyone around me. I called his name and he made a good pass and all I had to do make the shot. They told me four seconds but it was almost five, so I felt like I had an eternity. I took the dribble and let it go.”
While McKinney had the final 3-pointer, it was the Pioneers’ 3-point shooting in the final 79 seconds that almost caused overtime. Down 10 after a McKinney free throw, Glenville State put on a shooting parade as they hit five shots from behind the arc in that span. Zane Desouza tied the game at 92-92.
“I’m going to give my guys credit. I thought we defended them well,” Howlett said.
“I think John Williams is a special player. We’ve seen a lot of good players in this league. The most impressive part about that is he played almost 39 minutes and he was able to get those shots off.
“Hopefully we can make more shots (Sunday), but the most important thing for us is to get rest because we play in 16 hours.”
With the score 58-55 with 11:40 to go in the game, West Liberty provided a little spurt as they went on an 18-6 run to take a 15-point lead with about 6:20 to play. It was the largest lead of the game for West Liberty.
However, Glenville’s 3-point shooting was starting to heat up and it saw some shots tickle the twine as the Pioneers chipped away at the lead.
“I want to give Glenville a lot of credit,” Howlett said. “A lot of times when we have teams down double digits there in the second half, they fade away, but they kept fighting. Luckily we made the last shot. That’s what March is all about. Survive and advance.”
Dalton Bolon had a huge first half for the Hilltoppers as he went 9 of 11 from the field and had 24 of the Hilltoppers’ 46 points.
He finished with a team-high 32 points and is now third West Liberty’s all-time scoring list.
He passed Spencer Johnson and currently sits at 2,157 career points.
“We ran some stuff to him early just to see if we could get him going,” Howlett said. “Dalton is a volume scorer. Once he sees one or two go in, I think he’s going to be locked in. He was actually carrying us for a while.”
Robinson tallied 18 points for the Hilltoppers while McKinney had 15 and Bryce Butler netted 10.
For the Pioneers, Hegel Augustin and Williams both tallied 32 points. Desouza and Nick Edwards both had 12 points.
West Liberty will be in the MEC tournament championship for the third year in a row. In 2019, they fell to Notre Dame College, but defeated Charleston in 2020. Now, they have the right to not only defend the title, but be the first men’s team to win the tournament in consecutive years.
“It’s huge to us,” McKinney said. “We came here last year and were able to win it. That feeling of how much our hard work goes into it. This is what we play for. We play for March and we’re going to give it our all.”
Fairmont State 84, Charleston 69
Isaiah Sanders scored a game-high 31 points going 11 of 16 from the field as Fairmont State defeated Mountain East Conference South Division champion Charleston to advance to the MEC championship game.
The Falcons, who led by as many as 18 and only had six players see time on the court, shot 52.8% from the floor in the second half.
Dale Bonner was also solid for Fairmont State netting 22 points while Cole VonHandorf had 15.
Keith Williams had a team-high 18 points for the Golden Eagles while Seth O’Neal and Lamont McManus had 17 and 13, respectively.