No. 22 West Liberty Does it with Defense at D&E

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West Liberty Sports Information

ELKINS, W.Va. – The No. 22-ranked West Liberty men’s basketball team took over sole possession of first place in the Mountain East Conference North Division here Monday, smothering Davis & Elkins by a 77-59 count inside the McDonnell Center.

    The seventh straight win for Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (11-3) pushed the Black and Gold past Fairmont State (10-3) in the division standings. The Falcons saw their own six-game winning streak snapped at Notre Dame (Ohio), 96-85, on Monday.

    Although West Liberty came into Monday’s game as the highest-scoring team in the nation, a lengthy first-half shooting drought forced WLU to come up big at the other end of the court in order to keep their winning streak alive.

    The Hilltoppers knocked down their first two 3-point attempts of the game in the opening minute but missed 19 of their next 20 long-range bombs and eased into the halftime locker room clinging to a narrow 33-32 lead.

    West Liberty began to find the range when play resumed – the Black and Gold went 8-for-20 from the arc in the second half – while the Senators struggled to generate a consistent attack against a relentless WLU defense as the Hilltoppers began to pull away.

    A Bryce Butler 3-pointer capped a 10-2 burst and put West Liberty on top, 58-44, just before the 10-minute mark of the second half. The margin never dropped below double figures the rest of the way and the black-clad visitors led by as many as 21 points down the stretch.

    The Hilltoppers finished the night holding D&E to just 38 percent (21-of-54) shooting, including just 4-of-22 (18 percent) from the 3-point arc. The 27 second-half points and 59 total points were season lows for a potent D&E squad that came into the night averaging better than 80 points a game.

    That sterling defensive effort allowed WLU to overcome its worst shooting night of the season – 26-of-71 (36 percent) from the floor and 11-of-42 (26 percent) from the 3-point arc – and still come away with an 18-point road win.

    Dalton Bolon led the way with a game-high 19 points, highlighted by 5-of-11 shooting from deep, while Butler added 16 points and 7 rebounds to go along 15 points and 6 boards from Pat Robinson III.

    Malik McKinney rounded out the double-figure scorers with 13 points and 6 rebounds with Luke Dyer knocking down a pair of 3-point field goals while handing out 7 assists, snaring 6 rebounds and picking up 3 steals.

    Breland Walton led four double-figure scorers for the Senators with 16 points.

    West Liberty returns home to host Fairmont State on Wednesday with first place in the MEC North on the line. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. inside the ASRC.

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