West Liberty Men Ready To Defend Mountain East Conference Tournament Title
Wheeling to face Charleston Friday
WHEELING — The West Liberty men’s basketball team made history during the 2020 Mountain East Conference Tournament.
Not only did the Hilltoppers become the first team on the men’s side to win the tournament for a second time, they became the first No. 1 seed to cut down the nets. And now, they have a chance to defend their crown.
West Liberty clinched the No. 1 seed in the North Division and claimed a fourth straight regular season crown. That, though, didn’t come without some adversity.
After winning the first four games of the season, the Hilltoppers went on a three-game skid for the first time since 2003. However, behind a veteran group, the Hilltoppers righted the ship and come into the quarterfinals riding a nine-game winning streak.
They will face off against Concord on Friday, which defeated West Liberty on Jan. 20. That started the aforementioned losing streak. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament starting Friday with Concord,” West Liberty coach Ben Howlett said. “It seems like every year we play them in the first round and obviously we have a sour taste in our mouth for the loss they gave us down there at their place.
That was the start of the losing period for us and I think we’re a better basketball team now. So, the only thing on our mind is Concord and how we’re going to try and beat them.”
Dalton Bolon leads the way for the West Liberty offense at 22 points a game while also averaging just under eight rebounds per game (7.8). Pat Robinson has turned in another impressive campaign for the Hilltoppers as he is scoring just over 20 points per game (20.1). Bryce Butler (10.7 ppg) and Malik McKinney are also averaging double figures.
Reigning tournament MVP Will Yoakum was averaging 16.5 ppg before a late injury in the season.
Luke Dyer is second in the nation in assist-turnover ratio (4.73).
The Toppers lead the nation in points per game (105.9).
“At one point in the season, we were 4-3 and things were not going well,” Howlett said. “We put together a string of nine straight wins and I think we’re still improving. Anytime you can feel like your team’s improving going into the tournament, it’s a good feeling as a coach.”
For Wheeling University, the Cardinals were at the bottom of the MEC North Division in the middle of February after a loss to Concord.
However, Wheeling had a small turnaround of its own as it won three of its final six games of the regular season to earn a spot in the tournament.
In the first round, the Cardinals defeated Alderson-Broaddus, 97-91 to earn a battle against Charleston. The Cardinals and Golden Eagles tip off at 5 p.m.
“A couple of weeks ago, big picture wise, things didn’t look good, but there’s still a lot of ball left to be played,” Wheeling coach Chris Richardson said. “We played the last half of our season in like three weeks. We just have to focus on continuing to improve and we’ve done that. All the credit goes to our players for continuing to work, continuing to believe in what we’re doing and most importantly, continuing to believe in each other.”
Jordan Reid leads the team in points per game and also is 10th in the nation in Division II (22.6) while Jarett Haines and Jay Gentry average 18.6 and 11.1, respectively.
John Korte is the last double digit scorer for the Cardinals (10.1 ppg) while Wheeling Central alum has chipped in 9.1.
“One thing you know about this league is there really is no bottom,” Richardson said. “Anybody can beat anybody else on any given night. We’ve seen that throughout the year in this league. For us, it’s more we can’t really worry about the history of the tournament or any future goals or any aspirations for the end of this tournament. We just have to focus on what’s at hand and that’s kind of how we gotten through some tough times this season, but also how we handled some good times as well. If we continue to do that, we’ll put ourselves in a position to continue to have opportunities.”
Another thing about the MEC is there is a lot of scoring. Along with the Hilltoppers, three other teams are ranked Top 10 nationally in scoring in Glenville State (second, 97 ppg.); Fairmont State (seventh, 91.8) and West Virginia State (10th, 88.9).
John Williams (Glenville State) is third in the nation in points per game (27.1) while Glen Abram (West Virginia State) is eighth (23.5).
Glenville State’s Nick Edwards is third in the nation in assists per game (7.1) while Anthony Pittman of West Virginia State is fourth in rebounds (12.3).
In the other quarterfinal matchups on Friday, Glenville State will take on Notre Dame College at 11 a.m. while Fairmont State and West Virginia State are slated for the 8 p.m. tipoff.