WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 14-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team shot nearly 60 percent from the floor here Tuesday night in racing past Notre Dame (Ohio), 96-70, at the ASRC.
Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (5-1, 2-0) put the game out of reach well before intermission, taking a 50-34 lead into the halftime locker room before putting the Falcons (1-5 0-2) away in the final 20 minutes.
“I felt like we struggled to get into a flow tonight,” Howlett said. “Although we shot the ball well, I still think we missed some easy shots but the only thing I care about is that we’re sitting here at 5-1 heading into Thanksgiving.”
Sophomore Will Yoakum got WLU off to a flying start with a rim-rattling dunk off a backdoor feed from Preston Boswell. The 2019 MEC Freshman of the Year had 10 of his game-high 19 points before halftime despite seeing only 11 minutes of court time after picking up his third foul.
“For us to be really good, we need Will to be good,” Howlett said. “He had been working through a little bit of a sophomore slump but my confidence in him is through the roof. We ran that set off the opening tip to help get him going and he had a great day.”
After falling behind, 7-1, early, Notre Dame answered with a 9-2 spurt to take their only lead of the night, 10-9, on a Levi Frankland 3-pointer but Yoakum answered with a transition trey and the Black and Gold weren’t threatened again.
The margin never dropped below double figures after intermission and West Liberty led by as many as 30 points down the stretch before coasting across the finish line.
Boswell and Pat Robinson III backed Yoakum with 16 points each while Dalton Bolon just missed a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Junior Marlon Moore Jr. posted his first double-double of the season – and the fifth of his career – with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Two of only four players on the reloaded WLU roster who played in a Hilltopper game last season, Moore and Yoakum say the parts are starting to mesh.
“We still have a long way to go but we’re headed in the right direction,” Moore said. “Coach does a great job preparing us for every game and we’re embracing our roles, playing hard and playing to win.
“It seems like the more we play together, the better we play,” Yoakum agreed. “I think we’ll look totally different as a team by the time we get to March. We’re pretty excited.”
Malik McKinney, a sophomore transfer from Seton Hill (Pa.) who checked off several boxes on the stat sheet with 8 points, 4 rebounds, a 3-pointer and a game-high 3 steals, said the holdover veterans are making it an easy transition for the newcomers.
“The team was a big help,” McKinney said. “Just playing with them every day you understand what makes our program so successful. We outwork people. That’s how we win. I look for little things like a steal, a tipped ball or a pass because that gets other people involved and can really impact the game.”
Frankland led five double-figure scorers for Notre Dame with 18 points but was held to just two points in the second half.
The Hilltoppers shot 39-of-66 (59 percent) from the floor and 7-of-17 (41 percent) from the 3-point arc. It’s the fifth time this season West Liberty has shot better than 50 percent from the floor and the Black and Gold are 5-0 in those games.
The Hilltoppers don’t play again until Dec. 4, when they host West Virginia Wesleyan in a 7:30 p.m. game at the ASRC.