WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The #4 ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team is heading west this weekend to compete in two games at the DII Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas.

THE BASICS
DII Holiday Hoops Classic | South Point Arena (Las Vegas, Nev.)
December 17, 2022 | 8:45 pm est (5:45 pm pst) | vs. Lubbock Christian (5-3, 3-1 LSC)
December 18, 2022 | 11:00 pm est (8:00 pm pst) | vs. Missouri S&T (7-2, 2-2 GLVC)



THE HILLTOPPERS
West Liberty (9-0, 6-0 MEC) stayed put in the national rankings this week after a pair of quality wins in conference battles against Charleston on the road and #21 West Virginia State. In the most physical and tightly contested game of the season on Saturday, the Hilltoppers prevailed off a Bryce Butler bank shot in the final seconds to stay unbeaten on the season. WLU is now one of 12 undefeated teams remaining in DII.
 
The Hilltoppers are top-five in the nation in nine stat categories and #1 in three. The Black and Gold ranks first in three-pointers per game (12.7), three-pointers attempted per game (35.2), and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.07). They are second in assists per game (23.4), turnovers forced per game (20.67), and turnover margin (9.3). Then, rounding it out West Liberty is third in scoring at an average of 100.7 points per game, steals per game (12.8), and is fourth in scoring margin winning by 24.7 points on average. All nine of those lead the Mountain East Conference, then add in 11.3 turnovers committed per game to make it 10 stats the Hilltoppers lead the MEC in.
 
Butler’s game-winner helped earn him both D2CIDA National and MEC Player of the Week. The MEC honor was his second of the season after back-to-back 30-point outings on opening weekend. He led the team in scoring in both wins last week with 25 at Charleston and 33 versus WVSU for an average of 29 points per game. Butler has led the team in scoring each of the last three games, and six times this season. He is atop the MEC averaging 23.7 points per game, also ranking fourth in DII. The junior guard from Latrobe, Pa also leads the ‘Toppers on the glass averaging 7.4 boards a game. He has been the team’s leading rebounder five times this season and has three doubles-doubles, most recently the 25 pt./10 reb. performance at Charleston. 26 of his 41 rebounds this year have come on the offensive end. Butler has connected on a nation’s best 93 field goals and is shooting at a 62.0% clip from the field.
 
West Liberty is averaging 78.6 shot attempts per game, 17.5 more than their opposition. Just under 45% of those shots are coming beyond the arc. Chrisitan Montague and Zach Rasile lead the outside shooting, both with 21 makes on the season from deep. Montague is connecting at a 50% rate, while Rasile is at 43.8%. Steve Cannady and Ben Sarson are right behind with 18 triples each, shooting 45 and 39.1 percent, respectively. Rasile and Montague have both hit a three in all nine games this season.
 
Chaz Hinds drained a pair of big three pointers in the second half of the win over WVSU and is shooting 53.8% from deep in 13 attempts. Hinds, a junior college transfer, has been making the most of his 9.0 minutes per game this season with a pair of double-digit scoring performances and a double-double at Alderson Broaddus. He has seen double-digit minutes in each of the last four games.
 
The Hilltoppers own the one through four spots on the conference leaderboard in assist-to-turnover ratio. Cannady leads the quartet ranking fourth in DII with a 4.67 ratio, while Malik McKinney (3.33), Montague (2.85), and Alek West (2.64) round out the top-four in the MEC. Montague’s 37 assists leads three ‘Toppers with 30+ on the season Butler, at 32, and McKinney, at 30.
 
A balanced scoring attack for West Liberty features six players in double-figures heading to Vegas. Behind Butler’s 23.4 points per game, Cannady (11.9), McKinney (11.7), Montague (11.3), Sarson (10.8), and Rasile (10.0) are all averaging double-digits. All six of the top scorers average over 19 minutes a game, along with West at 19.4. A junior guard in his first season dawning the Black and Gold, West is buying into the full court pressure defense and leads the team with 20 steals.
 
As a team, West Liberty has owned an advantage on the offensive glass in eight of its nine games, while corralling 10 or more o-boards in each game. Overall, on the boards WLU holds averages a +5.4-rebounding margin.

THE CHAPS
After a run to the second round of the NCAA Regionals a season ago, Lubbock Christian is off to a 5-3 start this year. The Chaps bounced back from a nine-point loss at Texas A&M – International last Thursday with a 74-67 win over Texas A&M – Kingsville on Saturday heading into the trip to Vegas. LCU dropped a nine-point decision early in the season against #12 Southern Nazarene and came up three points short in its lone neutral site game against Colorado School of Mines, who was receiving votes at the time.
 
The Chaps are averaging 70.3 points per game and allowing 62.9 for +7.4 scoring margin. They are atop the Lone Star Conference in field goal percentage, at 48.1%, and are second in three-point shooting at 37.6% from beyond the arc averaging 8.8 triples per game. However, on the defensive side of the arc, LCU ranks last in the conference with an opponents three-point shooting percentage of 36.8%.
 
On average, Lubbock Christian is holding a +5.8 margin on the boards and pull down 9.38 offensive rebounds per game. The Chaps are coughing up 14.1 turnovers per game and are forcing 14.5.
 
Rowan Mackenzie is the go-to guy for LCU, a 6’3″ junior guard from Australia. He leads the team in nearly every stat category including an average of 19.6 points per game, which ranks third in the LSC. Mackenzie has netted double-digits in all but one game and has a pair of 30-point games to his record. He is on the floor for nearly 35 minutes per game and drains 2.25 three-pointers during that time. Mackenzie also pulls down 4.88 rebounds per game, has 15 steals, and 29 assists.
 
6’7″ graduate student Russell Harrison is the lone other Chap in double figures, at 13.9 points per game, and has scored 15-plus in four of the last five outings.
 
Seven players have played in all eight games and three average over 30 minutes per game for LCU.
 
THE MINERS
Missouri S&T comes to Vegas with a 7-2 overall record, suffering both losses in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. The Miners have won each of their last two outings, most recently a conference win over Illinois Springfield, 97-93 at home. In neutral site contests, S&T is 2-0 with wins over Lake Superior State and Northwood at the Drury Midwest Regional Classic on opening weekend.
 
The Miners lead their conference in scoring at 85.8 points per game, ranking 15th in DII. They have eclipsed the century mark once in a 107-65 blowout win over Westminster. Missouri S&T also leads the GLVC in turnover margin (+5.7) and defensive rebounds per game (27.33). Overall, the Miners own a +5.4-rebounding margin over opponents and are led by Ikenna Okeke, a 6’6″ junior forward, on the glass averaging 6.6 rebounds per game.
 
Julien Smith leads the GLVC averaging 17.8 points per game. The 6’2″ sophomore guard has netted double digits in every game and 20+ in four of the last five outings. Beyond the arc, Smith is netting 2.67 three-pointers per game and shooting 37.5%.
 
Three other Miners average double-digit points per game along with Smith. Okeke is at 15.3, sophomore guard Lovell Williams is netting 14.2, and Kaden Froebe is scoring 12.6. A 6’3″ sophomore guard, Froebe is top-10 in DII with a 65.6 shooting percentage from the floor.
 
Williams is also leading the team with a 2.75 assist-to-turnover ratio, while also ranking third in the conference in steals, at 18.
 
The Miners rank 12th in the country with a 50.8 field goal percentage. Just under 70% of their shots come from inside the arc. When stretching it out beyond the arc, Missouri S&T is shooting 35.2%. Opponents are being held to 42.4% shooting from the floor and a 36.3% mark from deep through nine games.

THE SERIES
This will be the Hilltoppers’ first meeting against both the Chaps and Miners.

NEXT UP
West Liberty will be back in action on New Year’s Eve at Bowie State for a 2 pm contest in the Old Line State.