Wheeling Jesuit raced out to a 21-point halftime lead Thursday night en route to handing No. 5 West Liberty a rare home loss, 102-80, in Mountain East Conference men’s basketball action at the ASRC.
The Cardinals (8-7, 4-6), who shot a blistering 60 percent from the floor on the night, drained 7 3-pointers in the first half to build a 49-28 advantage at the break and the Hilltoppers (14-2, 9-2) never found the range in suffering only their fourth home loss in their last 115 games at the ASRC, dating back to the 2006-07 season.
“It’s easy to look at the numbers and just say, ‘They were hot and we weren’t,’ ” WLU head coach Jim Crutchfield said, “but that’s not the story tonight. Wheeling didn’t just shoot well; they played well.
“Every team is going to have nights when the shots don’t drop but good teams still find a way to win by controlling the things they can control, playing good defense, moving the ball and taking good shots. We didn’t do that tonight and we paid the price.”
Wheeling Jesuit picked up where it had left off when play resumed, opening the second half with a 15-3 run to take its largest lead of the night, 64-33, on a Justin Fritts 3-pointer as the clock ticked past 16 minutes.
Seger Bonifant, the nation’s leading scorer who had been held to just one shot in the first half, scored 10 of West Liberty’s 18 points during an 18-6 spurt that trimmed the margin to 70-51 with just over 12 minutes to go.
Jesuit refused to fold, reeling off 8 straight points to open up a 78-51 lead and slamming the door with a pair of Eric Seifert free throws after Bonifant was whistled for his fifth foul with 10:19 remaining. The Hilltoppers never threatened again.
C.J. Hester led West Liberty with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Devin Hoehn added 14 points and Brady Arnold joined Bonifant with 10 points each to round out the double-figure scoring for WLU, which shot 44 percent (30-of-68) from the floor but was just 6-of-22 (27 percent) from the 3-point arc and 14-of-30 (46 percent) from the foul line.
Fritts paced five double-figure scorers for the Cardinals with a game-high 24 points. Seifert added 18 points and 7 assists, Pat Moseh and Haywood Highsmith donated 15 and 13 points, respectively, off the bench and Tim Goff had 11 points in just 14 minutes of action.
It was the second straight loss for the Hilltoppers, who were coming off a 99-83 setback at Fairmont State on Saturday, and Crutchfield – who hadn’t suffered back-to-back losses since the 2008-09 season – was preparing to burn some midnight oil.
“The good thing about basketball is that we get to go back on the floor Saturday against Urbana,” Crutchfield said. “We have less than 48 hours to get the ship righted so tomorrow’s practice won’t be a walk-through. We’re going to use it to make some changes. I don’t know what those changes will be right now but I’ll figure that out tonight and we’ll get back to work tomorrow.”