A 21-point burst in the final 4 minutes of the first half was all No. 4 West Liberty needed to power past Bluefield State, 111-72, Monday night in West Virginia Conference men's basketball action at the ASRC.
The Big Blues (2-17, 2-13) came into the game seeking a third consecutive upset win after knocking off Glenville State and Shepherd in back-to-back shockers last week but Coach Jim Crutchfield and his league-leading Hilltoppers (18-1, 12-1) had other plans.
"We knew Bluefield was coming off a long trip to Glenville on Thursday and then another long bus ride up here after playing an up-tempo game against Shepherd on Saturday," Crutchfield said. "I've been in this league long enough to know how tough those road trips are so our game plan was to keep pushing the pace and try to wear them down."
The visitors took advantage of some poor West Liberty shooting to stay close for much of the first half and trailed just 34-31 as the clock ticked past the 4-minute mark when the Hilltoppers' strategy began to pay off.
Tim Hausfeld got things started with a steal at mid court and the 5-7 senior brought the crowd to its feet when he attacked the basket and got a lay up to drop while being fouled.
Hausfeld drained the free throw to complete the 3-point play and West Liberty was on its way.
Three Hilltopper steals and four Bluefield State turnovers fueled a 21-5 burst – highlighted by a pair of Cedric Harris 3-pointers – that sent the hosts into the locker room with a 55-36 lead despite what Crutchfield admitted was a less than artistic performance.
"It wasn't the prettiest half we ever played," Crutchfield said. "We didn't shoot the ball well at all and even though we forced a lot of turnovers, we wound up giving some of them right back. Despite all that, we had a 19-point lead over a team that had just beaten Shepherd and Glenville worse than we did. When you play the way we play, with so many possessions in a game, the law of averages tends to work in your favor."
West Liberty picked up right where it had left off when play resumed and led by as many as 40 points in the waning minutes.
Alex Falk led the Hilltoppers with 16 points, 6 steals, 5 assists and 5 rebounds – all in the first half as the WLU reserves took up most of the second half minutes. Joining Falk in double-figures were Kelvin Goodwin with 14 points, Harris and Nick Brown with a dozen each. C.J. Hester had his seventh double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Detterance Norwood and Treon Claiborne each scored 18 points to lead Bluefield State while 6-8 sophomore Samuel Ouedraogo added 9 points and an arena-record 19 rebounds.
West Liberty goes on the road Thursday night for a 7:30 p.m. game at West Virginia State.
X West Liberty improved to 72-2 in its last 74 WVIAC games dating back to the 2009-10 season
X Crutchfield is now 12-0 against Bluefield State
X Monday's win stretched the Hilltoppers' home WVIAC winning streak to 49 games
X West Liberty is now 66-2 in its last 68 conference games at the ASRC dating back to the 2005-06 season
X Ouedraogo's 19 rebounds broke the previous ASRC record of 18 rebounds set by Brice Mills against Shepherd on Jan. 7, 2002 and tied by Hester earlier this season against W.Va. Wesleyan on Nov. 20