The No. 6-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team used a late first-half surge to gain the upper hand and never trailed after intermission Thursday night to snap No. 2 Fairmont State’s 13-game winning streak with an impressive 84-77 victory at a jam-packed Joe Retton Arena.
Coach Jim Crutchfield’s Hilltoppers (19-2, 13-2) broke open a see-saw affair just before halftime when Devin Hoehn drained a trio of 3-point shots, fueling a 16-3 run that turned a 28-27 Falcon lead into a 43-31 WLU edge with just under 2 minutes left in the half.
West Liberty settled for a 45-37 advantage at the break and pushed the margin as high as 13 points in the final 20 minutes. Fairmont State (19-2, 13-2), which hadn’t lost since dropping an 88-86 decision to the Hilltoppers on Dec. 5, tried to battle back but never got closer than 4 points the rest of the way.
The sellout crowd rose to its feet when the Falcons closed the gap to 81-77 with 2:04 remaining on a Matt Bingaya post move but the hosts never scored again.
The teams traded defensive stops until Seger Bonifant was fouled after pulling down a rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Thomas Wimbush with just 30 seconds remaining.
The Hilltoppers’ senior All-American made both free throws for an 83-77 WLU lead and when Fairmont’s Jamel Morris misfired on a hurried 26-footer at the 20-second mark, Mike Lamberti grabbed the miss and added another foul toss to close out the scoring.
Bonifant led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds but got plenty of support. Hoehn drained 4 3-pointers and finished with 17 points while Lamberti matched his 17 points and added 8 rebounds. True freshman David Dennis Jr. added a dozen points to go along with a strong floor game.
Bingaya had a double-double for the hosts with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Jason Jolly added 18 points and Wimbush donated 14 points to a losing cause.
West Liberty has little time to celebrate as the Hilltoppers head to Shepherdstown on Saturday for a 4 p.m. test against Shepherd.
X Bonifant has posted double-figure scoring totals in every game this season
X Crutchfield is now a sparkling 27-3 against Fairmont State during his 12 years at the West Liberty helm
X The Hilltoppers improved to 108-2 since the end of the 2008-09 season when holding their opponent under 80 points
X WLU has won six straight conference championships and has compiled a 138-9 (.938) record in league play over the past seven seasons
X Fairmont State faces another Top 10 challenge on Saturday when the Falcons travel to No. 4-ranked Wheeling Jesuit