Host Concord rode an incredible second-half hot streak to hand No. 1 West Liberty its first loss of the season, pulling away to a 108-93 upset win Monday night at the Carter Center.
The Mountain Lions (11-5, 5-4) hit 10-of-11 shots from the floor over a 5-minute span to turn a 60-55 Hilltopper lead into a 76-65 Concord advantage midway through the second half.
Battling foul problems and struggling through their worst shooting night of the season, Coach Jim Crutchfield’s Hilltoppers (15-1, 9-1) were able to pull within four points, 86-82, on a Devin Hoehn layup as the clock ticked past the 5-minute mark but could get no closer.
The Mountain Lions’ Terry Hopewell answered with a strong inside move and Rob Reed brought the crowd to its feet with a steal and conventional 3-point play off a ringing one-handed dunk. When West Liberty missed a 3-pointer at the other end and Hopewell threw down yet another dunk to restore the double-digit lead, 93-82, with 3:53 remaining, the Hilltoppers had run out of comebacks.
West Liberty had played most of the first half without All-American Seger Bonifant, who went to the bench with two quick fouls before the game was 90 seconds old. Bonifant returned to the court midway through the half but picked up his third foul at the 9:15 mark and returned to his seat.
Bonifant was still settling in when Reed gave the hosts their biggest lead of the half, 33-18, on a 15-foot jumper and it seemed that the nation’s No. 1-ranked team was in danger of being blown out.
Freshman Beau Justice came off the bench to hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers and the Hilltoppers – who had missed 12 of their first 16 shots at the start of the game – turned up the heat on both ends of the court.
Two free throws by Zac Grossenbacher put WLU back on top, 40-39, with 3:14 left in the half but West Liberty wasn’t finished. Leading 44-42 with less than 30 seconds remaining, Crutchfield put Bonifant back on the court for the final possession and the senior sharpshooter splashed home a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 47-42 halftime lead.
The Hilltoppers continued their surge when play resumed, eventually pushing out to a 54-44 lead on a Bonifant layup with 18:07 remaining, but the fouls continued to mount and WLU couldn’t deliver the knockout punch.
Bonifant hit a pair of free throws for a 60-55 lead with 14:24 left but Reed followed a 3-point bomb with a 15-foot jumper to forge what proved to be the only tie of the second half, 60-60, with 13:51 to go.
Grossenbacher muscled inside for a layup but Reed drained another 3-pointer to put Concord ahead to stay, 63-62, at the 13:13 mark and the Mountain Lions mashed the accelerator to the floor.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Aaron Miller and Michael Sanchez capped the 21-5 blitz, putting the hosts on top, 76-65, with 9:22 remaining and giving them enough breathing room to hold off the Hilltoppers the rest of the way.
Hoehn hit seven 3-pointers and led West Liberty with 30 points while Dennis added 20 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds before fouling out. Bonifant had 16 points before fouling out while Grossenbacher finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds.
Six Hilltoppers had picked up four fouls by the 9-minute mark of the second half with three of them – including Bonifant and Dennis – fouling out down the stretch. West Liberty shot a season-low 39 percent (27-of-69) from the floor.
Reed led all scorers with 36 points – 22 in the second half – for Concord. Miller added 21 points and Jametrius Wade chipped in with 15. Sanchez had a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists while Hopewell also charted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mountain Lions scorched the nets at a 61 percent clip (37-of-61) for the game, including a blistering 69 percent (24-of-35) in the second half.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Hilltoppers, who travel to No. 24-ranked Ohio County rival Wheeling Jesuiton Thursday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the McDonough Center.