WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 10-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team came roaring down the stretch here Wednesday night, snapping Charleston’s 7-game winning streak with an impressive 89-78 victory inside a raucous ASRC.
Trailing 55-50 with 14 minutes left against a UC (7-2, 4-1) squad that had shot a blistering 60 percent from the floor in the first half, Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (8-1, 4-1) flipped the script with a 15-2 burst over the next two minutes and the Golden Eagles never took wing again.
“Pivotal game, especially this early in the season,” Howlett said. “One of the most important December games we’ve played in a very long time in terms of the (Mountain East) Conference – you never want to be two games down in the standings before Christmas – and the region. Really big win.”
After shooting its way to a 48-44 lead at the half, Charleston opened up its largest lead of the night, 55-50, on a Shaunn Monroe jumper as the second half clock ticked past the 14-minute mark.
Pat Robinson answered at the other end with a pair of free throws and Zach Rasile bombed in a 3-pointer to tie it, 55-55, with 13:06 on the clock before a revised West Liberty press completely changed the game.
“I have to give my assistant coaches credit tonight,” Howlett said. “We tweaked our press a little bit in the second half and it really helped create some opportunities for us, especially in that one little spurt.”
Robinson stole the in-bounds pass following Rasile’s 3-pointer and laid it in to put WLU ahead to stay, 57-55. Rasile then missed a layup after coming up with a steal of his own but Robinson was there for the put-back and a 59-55 lead.
The Golden Eagles made it into the frontcourt on the next possession but Robinson grabbed a Lamont McManus miss and found freshman forward Elijah Watson all alone on the left wing for another 3-pointer to make it 62-55.
Keith Williams tried to stop the bleeding for UC with a quick jumper but Robinson – a returning All-Region guard with more than 1,500 career points on his resume – channeled his inner point guard once more for a Bryce Butler bonus bomb to open up a 65-57 Hilltopper lead as the ASRC erupted.
Robinson finished with a game-high 22 points but also contributed 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Six of the points came during that crucial 15-2 run along with two of the assists and two of the steals.
“I’m not just a one-dimensional player,” said the 6-3 junior, who leads the Hilltoppers in assists as well as scoring. “Being able to set my teammates up with scoring opportunities keeps teams from locking down on us and makes everyone more effective.
“All my teammates stepped up in a huge way tonight. Even when we were missing shots early, we kept playing hard on both ends of the floor. When the shots began falling, that’s when the lead started to get bigger.”
The margin reached double-digits on several occasions down the stretch but the visitors rallied to make one final run. An Eddie Colbert 3-pointer ended an 8-0 UC run and made it a one-possession game, 80-78, with 1:22 left but Robinson drove the lane at the end of the shot clock and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Butler who drained a dagger of a 3-pointer for an 83-78 lead with 50 seconds to play.
The Hilltoppers went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to conclude the scoring.
Butler backed Robinson with 20 points – his second straight 20-point game – to go along with 9 rebounds while Marlon Moore Jr. and Malik McKinney chipped in with 11 points each.
McManus paced five double-figure scorers for Charleston with 14 points and 9 rebounds.
“We beat a really good basketball team tonight,” Howlett said. “The best thing about it for me is that we were able to beat them even though I didn’t think we played particularly well at times. If we stick with it and keep working, we could be pretty dangerous by the end of the year.”
Saturday’s regularly-scheduled game against West Virginia State has been moved to Monday night due to graduation exercises at WVSU. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Walker Convocation Center.