FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The No. 4-ranked West Liberty men’s basketball team led for all but 15 seconds here Wednesday night and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half in an impressive 96-84 win at No. 21 Fairmont State.
Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (3-0) overcame a poor shooting night with a dominant performance on the glass, winning the rebounding battle by a convincing 52-43 margin with a staggering 23 of those boards coming on the offensive end.
Isaiah Sanders gave the host Falcons (2-1) their only lead of the night, 6-5, with a rainbow 3-pointer in the early going but Will Yoakum answered with a bonus bomb of his own seconds later and the visitors never trailed again.
A Dalton Bolon 3-pointer produced the first double-digit advantage, 26-16, at 8:40 of the opening half and WLU took its biggest lead of the opening period, 45-30, on a rebound hoop by Bryce Butler just 38 seconds before intermission.
Fairmont State struggled from the 3-point arc throughout the night but a 3-pointer from Shem Golek pulled the Falcons within six points, 60-54, as the second half clock hit 9:40.
The Hilltopper defense tightened the screws, holding FSU to just one field goal over the next 3-plus minutes and creating some easy scoring chances off backcourt turnovers against the full-court pressure.
Malik McKinney knifed down the lane for a driving layup with 6:12 remaining, capping a 14-4 West Liberty surge that put the visitors in full control. Fairmont never got the margin under 8 points the rest of the way.
The Hilltoppers’ All-MEC “Big Three” led the way with Bolon tossing in 20 points, Pat Robinson III adding 19 more and Will Yoakum hitting 15 of his 18 points in the second half. Butler impressed off the bench with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while McKinney and Owen Hazelbaker had 10 points each.
Fairmont State got 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds from Sanders with Cole VonHandorf adding 17 points. Dale Bonner finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists while Zyon Dobbs and Seth Younkin rounded out the double-figure scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
West Liberty returns home to host Frostburg State on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. at the ASRC.