No. 19 West Liberty Smothers Concord, 102-68

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WHEELING, W.Va. – The No. 19-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team rolled to its 10th straight win here Friday, racing away to a 102-68 victory against Concord in a Mountain East Conference Tournament quarterfinal at WesBanco Arena.
    Coach Ben Howlett’s defending MEC Tournament champion Hilltoppers (14-3) had been upset by the Mountain Lions (9-8) during the regular season but avenged that loss with ease on Friday, opening up a 22-point halftime lead and coasting through the final 20 minutes.
    “This was a really good team win for us,” Howlett said. “Obviously, we had a bit of sour taste in our mouth from the loss in the regular season but we did some things differently in our press and half-court defense and had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys. Hopefully, we can have two more games like that down here this weekend.”
    Concord kept things close in the early going, trailing just 29-25 after a Jordan Wooden jumper at 9:32 of the first half, but that’s when WLU went into lock-down mode on defense. The Mountain Lions didn’t make another shot from the floor for nearly seven minutes of clock time and the Hilltoppers scored the next 15 points as part of a 21-4 run that all but put the game out of reach, 50-29.
  Pat Robinson III closed out the half with his second 3-point bomb and West Liberty was well on its way to the semifinal round with a 55-33 lead at intermission.
    “We told our guys at halftime that the last 10 minutes of the first half were probably the best 10 minutes of half-court defense we’ve played all season,” Howlett said. “Everybody knew who they were guarding. They were all on the same page, getting deflections and forcing turnovers that led to easy shots. It was fun to watch.”
    Senior Marlon Moore Jr. had a huge impact off the bench. The 6-5 sky-walker sparked the Black and Gold on both ends of the floor, finishing with season highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds in 18 action-packed minutes of playing time.
    “I don’t know what it is about Marlon in this arena but he had three great games a year ago and gave us a big lift again today with his energy and intensity,” Howlett said. “It wasn’t just the 11 rebounds, it was the type of rebounds he was getting. He’s pulling tough rebounds in traffic with guys surrounding him. When Marlon’s getting extra possessions for us like that, we can be a pretty good basketball team.”
    As usual, the Hilltoppers were an extremely well-rounded team on Friday. Moore was just one three West Liberty players to post double doubles on the afternoon and one of five double-figure scorers.
    Robinson logged his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Dalton Bolon added 16 points and 10 boards. Bryce Butler scored all 16 of his points in the first half with Zach Rasile adding 13 points off the bench, including a trio of 3-pointers.
    “(Concord) had beaten us at their place so we knew we had to up our intensity,” Robinson said. “Sprint to every trap, active hands, maximum effort. It’s tournament basketball. We really wanted to win so we could play again tomorrow.”
    Malik Johnson finished with 18 hard-earned points to lead Concord, which shot just 36 percent (24-of-67) from the floor and made just 3-of-27 3-point field goal attempts on the day.
    The Hilltoppers move on to Saturday night’s 8 p.m. semifinal against another regionally-ranked squad in Glenville State (9-3). The Pioneers powered past Notre Dame (Ohio), 83-68, in Friday’s first quarterfinal.
    West Liberty handed Glenville State its first loss of the season, 117-85, on Feb. 1 but the Pioneers rank No. 2 nationally in scoring at 97.0 ppg., trailing only the Hilltoppers (105.9 ppg.).
    “If I was a fan, I would definitely get here early for that game,” Howlett said with a smile. “I’m not slowing it down and I know (GSC head coach) Justin Caldwell won’t be slowing it down, either. It should be quite a track meet.”

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