No. 3-ranked West Liberty overcame a rare halftime deficit Monday night and ran away to a 113-103 victory against upset-minded Shepherd in West Virginia Conference men's basketball action at the ASRC.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers (25-1, 19-1) battled the Rams (14-11, 11-10) on virtually even terms for most of the night before taking control over the final 6 minutes.
"I'm just stubborn enough to keep the press on," Crutchfield said, "and I thought we finally wore them down to the point where we could force a few turnovers and put a little run together. Once we got the lead, we did a good job finishing the game out down the stretch."
Shepherd, which had pushed WLU to the limit in a 114-109 thriller on Jan. 7 in Shepherdstown, led 54-50 at halftime following Sidney McCray's 65-foot buzzer beater and pushed the margin as high as seven points in the second half before the Hilltoppers clawed their way back.
The teams traded leads through the middle part of the final frame with the Rams taking their final lead, 92-90, when Morgan McDonald cashed in a fast break feed from Austin Cunningham with 6:15 remaining.
Shawn Dyer answered with a conventional 3-point play off a drive to the hoop for a 93-92 lead at 6:04 and pushed the margin to 95-92 with a nearly identical drive on the next possession.
"Shawn was in a good match up so we went to him twice in a row and he delivered," Crutchfield said of the redshirt sophomore who pumped in 19 points off the bench. "It's been hard to take him off the floor the past couple of weeks."
Baskets by Alex Falk and C.J. Hester capped the 9-0 surge, putting West Liberty on top, 99-92, as the clock ticked past the 4-minute mark and Shepherd had run out of answers.
The Hilltoppers led by as many as 11 points in the final 2 minutes before settling for the final 10-point margin.
Cedric Harris led all scorers with 31 points, 5 assists and 4 steals while Falk chipped in with 23 points.
Hester had a huge night on the boards, yanking down a WVIAC season-high – and ASRC arena-record – 21 rebounds to go along with 9 points and career-highs of 5 assists and 4 steals.
With reigning WVIAC Player of the Week Chris Morrow sidelined by an apparent ankle injury, the West Liberty bench rose to the challenge once again.
In addition to Dyer's strong performance, true freshman Seger Bonifant hit his first 8 shots from the floor, drained 6-of-7 shots from behind the 3-point arc to finish with a career-high 22 points.
"Our depth is definitely paying off for us now," Crutchfield said. "Shawn's been playing very well for a while and Seger can really shoot it. It's hard to call those guys subs anymore because they've been getting starter's minutes."
Chad Moore led Shepherd with 29 points while Cunningham added 22 points.
West Liberty hits the road on Thursday with a 7:30 p.m. game at Pitt-Johnstown.
X This was the Hilltoppers' 13th consecutive win against the Rams under Crutchfield
X West Liberty improved to 135-5 (.964) under Crutchfield when shooting 50 percent or better from the floor – including a perfect 17-0 mark this season
X The Hilltoppers extended their WVIAC home winning streak to 53 games, dating back to 2008
X West Liberty has won 70 of its last 72 league games at the ASRC since 2005-06
X The four-time defending WVIAC champion Hilltoppers are 90-3 (.968) in conference play dating back to February 2009