Howlett Era Off to Flying Start
By SHAWN RINE
WEST LIBERTY — All that fretting that Ben Howlett did after taking over for the legendary Jim Crutchfield, seems to have been unwarranted. West Liberty got off to a 4-0 start while averaging 124.8 points a game, pressuring the opposition into submission.
If that sounds familiar, it should. The Hilltoppers, who entered the season No. 17 in the NCAA Division II rankings, are up to their old tricks again.
“We’ve said in the last couple years that we were going to get back to pressuring teams, but we haven’t done it,” Howlett said. “I like our energy and we’ve got the personnel to really put pressure on teams.
“We’ve really got a bunch of role players besides Dan (Monteroso), so I think because of that the buy-in is very good.
“These guys talk about pressing all the time. They want to press.”
Monteroso, of course, is WLU’s heartbeat. An Academic All-American off the court, he’s an All-Atlantic Region player on it. Monteroso averaged a team-leading 18.2 points to go along with 5.6 rebounds a night last season, one he spent between the basketball and football teams at the school.
“He’s our leader and he brings it every day in practice and in games,” Howlett said. “On and off the court he is ready to go to war.
“This is his second year with us but the first he could just concentrate on basketball and you can see the strides he has made.”
He’s joined in the backcourt by redshirt freshman Dalton Bolon, who is a deadly 3-point shooter who already has registered the first collegiate double-double of his career.
“He’s relentless,” Howlett said. “He’s in here shooting at 6 a.m., is back after lunch to get more shots up.
“His success is no surprise to me. I am just interested to see if he can continue to do it because it’s a long season.”
James Griffin may be the team’s most improved player. A transfer from Marist, it took some time for him to get accustomed last season to the West Liberty way. Griffin seems more comfortable in his second season.
“He had some injuries at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, but now he is the healthiest he has been since he got here,” Howlett said. “He’s shooting the ball really well … I think if you look at his stats he is shooting better from 3 than he is at the free-throw line.
“He’s playing much better and at 6-foot-5 he is one of our bigger guys.”
Luke Dyer, another redshirt freshman, has taken over the point guard duties vacated when David Dennis Jr. followed Crutchfield to Nova Southeastern. A graduate of Robert C. Byrd in Clarksburg, Dyer isn’t flashy but he’s dependable.
“He could have played last year and been fine,” Howlett said. “He is solid for us.
“I know the ball is in good hands when he has it.”
Eric Meininger, a 6-5 forward, has stepped his game up considerably and is now a big piece of the WLU puzzle.
“He started the first two games last year and then got hurt and was never really able to get back into the rotation,” Howlett said. “This fall I had guys rate every player, and Eric was ranked No. 1 by 13 of the 14 players. I think the only one that didn’t have him at the top was himself.
“His body looks good and he’s in the gym more. I think this year he realizes we need him and he is an important part.”
Lincoln transfer guard Jordan Watson has given the Hilltoppers quality minutes along with his scoring ability. He knocked down five 3-pointers in a victory against Glenville.
“He came from a school that didn’t have a lot of success so he didn’t have the best practice habits when he got here,” Howlett said. “He has really figured things out and if you leave him open, he is probably going to make the shot every time.”
Nate Allen is another transfer (Hill Junior College) guard who is seeing some minutes early in the season. Howlett believes once he figures things out completely, Allen will be an asset.
Brandon Smith is now a senior. After battling back from a gruesome injury at the end of his sophomore season, Smith is back as a major contributor.
“I am surprised he is even able to play basketball after what he went through,” Howlett said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a kid than I am of Brandon.
“No matter what he is going to be a 15-20-minute guy for us and when he enters the game, I feel like the intensity picks up.”
True freshman Marlon Moore Jr. is doing all the dirty work inside right now. And that’s what Howlett and assistants Brett Ervin and Aaron Huffman like to see.
“I made it very simple for Marlon,” Howlett said. “I told him that I want him to try to block every shot and get every rebound.
“What he gives us beyond that is an added bonus.”
Tyler Primmer, a 6-5 junior, is giving WLU valuable minutes off the bench. Howlett likes his ability to guard both guards or post players and says fans know what they are going to get from Primmer every time out.
Evan French brings the ability to score in bunches off the bench. Howlett joked that in two scrimmages French averaged 15 points but had zeroes in all other categories.
“We pointed out to him that he had five offensive rebounds against Seton Hill,” Howlett said. “C.J. Hester was 6-4 and he left here as the all-time leading rebounder.
“We’ve made it clear he can do the same thing.”
Keegan Saben, a 6-3 freshman from Centerville, Ohio, is a player the coaching staff is high on
“He is going to be really good for us and right now he is the third point guard off the bench,” Howlett said. “But I have told them that he is only one injury from playing 20 minutes a night.
“I have no problem putting him into big games.”
Will Yoakum and Joe Ochoa are redshirting.
*Nov. 10: Cheyney W, 139-63
*Nov. 11: Seton Hill W, 107-69
Nov. 14: at Davis & Elkins W, 123-90
Nov. 18: at Glenville State W, 130-100
Nov. 20: W.Va. Wesleyan W, 111-81
Nov. 29: at Urbana 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2: Notre Dame 4 p.m.
Dec. 6: at Shepherd 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9: Fairmont 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 13: King University 7 p.m.
Dec. 19: District of Columbia 6 p.m.
Jan. 4: at W.Va. State 7:30 p.m.
Jan.6: Charleston 4 p.m.
Jan. 11: at UVa.-Wise 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 13: at Concord 4 p.m.
Jan. 17: Urbana 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20: at Wheeling Jesuit 4 p.m.
Jan. 24: Shepherd 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 28: at Fairmont TBA
Feb. 1: UVa.-Wise 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3: Concord 4 p.m.
Feb. 8: W.Va. State 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10: Charleston 4 p,m.
Feb. 15: at W.Va. Wesleyan 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 17: Glenville State 4 p.m.
Feb. 21: at Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24: Wheeling Jesuit 4 p.m.
**March 1-3: MEC Tournament TBA
**-at Charleston Civic Center