WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. (WLU Sports) – West Virginia Wesleyan’s Dusan Vicentic hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to complete an improbable comeback here Wednesday night as the hot-shooting Bobcats shocked No. 14-ranked West Liberty, 94-91, in Mountain East Conference action at the ASRC.
Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (5-2, 2-1) seemed in total control after coasting into halftime with a 44-26 lead but Wesleyan (2-6, 2-1) shot a blistering 80 percent (24-of-30) from the floor – including 9-of-10 from the 3-point arc – over the final 20 minutes to pull off the upset.
“That’s a tough loss for us,” Howlett said. “I thought we came out and played the best 5 minutes of basketball we’d played all year going up to the first media timeout. After that, for whatever reason, we started playing like individuals instead of a team.”
Despite the Bobcats’ scorching shooting performance, they didn’t catch the Hilltoppers until the 1:33 mark when Luke Petrovic got a driving layup to go down for an 88-87 Wesleyan lead.
A pair of Luke Dyer free throws put WLU back on top, 89-88, but Daylin Lee answered with a 3-point bomb from the corner to make it 91-89 heading into the final minute.
West Liberty came up with a big defensive stop and Preston Boswell slithered down the lane for a twisting layup to forge the game’s final tie, 91-91, with 12 seconds to play.
With time running out, the ball wound up in Vicentic’s hands in front of the Bobcat bench and he hit nothing but net on the game-winner.
“Put this one on me,” Howlett said. “I have to make sure our guys are dialed in and playing team defense. We got away from that in the second half and Wesleyan made us pay.”
West Liberty had burst out of the blocks with a 15-0 burst in the first 3 1/2 minutes off the opening tip. Dalton Bolon had 11 of the 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and the Hilltoppers led by as many as 21 points before settling for the 18-point advantage at halftime.
Bolon finished with 19 points to pace five double-figure scorers for the Black and Gold. Marlon Moore Jr. had 14 points and a team-high 8 rebounds while Boswell and Pat Robinson III added a dozen points each. Dyer finished with 11 points and 5 assists.
Lee came off the bench to score 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half – including a 4-for-4 showing from the 3-point arc. Ross Young and Clay Todd added 16 points each while Vicentic scored 12 of his 15 points after intermission.
“Give Wesleyan credit,” Howlett said. “They got down 15-0 right off the jump and never quit for one second. Maybe it’s 75 percent our defense wasn’t what it should have been but they still have to make the shots.
“This one hurts but I told my guys after the game that we have the talent and the personnel to string together a lot of wins. It’s just a matter of getting everyone to buy in and play as a team instead of individuals. We will learn from this and we will get better from this. I promise you that.”
The Hilltoppers will look to get back on track Saturday when they head to Davis & Elkins for a 4 p.m. test.