JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The No. 14-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team called on its defense to take control midway through the second half here Wednesday night and handed Pitt-Johnstown a 95-83 home loss at the UPJ Sports Center.
Reigning Mountain East Conference Player of the Week Pat Robinson III led a balanced attack with 21 points for Coach Ben Howlett’s Hilltoppers (3-0), who held the Mountain Cats (2-1) to just one field goal over nearly a 10-minute span of the second half to put the game on ice.
Pitt-Johnstown, which swept a pair of MEC opponents over the weekend and came into Wednesday’s game ranked No. 6 in the D2SIDA Atlantic Region poll, gave the high-powered visitors all they wanted through the first 20 minutes and well into the second half.
Neither team led by more than 5 points in a first half which featured 6 ties and 10 lead changes. That changed quite abruptly a few minutes into the second half.
The hosts’ Ryan Smith scored inside to put UPJ within a single point, 61-60, with 13:27 remaining. Marlon Moore Jr. answered quickly for the Black and Gold, scoring on a stick-back of his own miss with just over 13 minutes to play and the WLU defense stepped squarely into the spotlight.
West Liberty scored 21 of the game’s next 26 points, opening up its largest lead of the night, 82-65, when Malik McKinney drained a corner 3-pointer off a feed from Christian Montague as the clock turned under 5 minutes.
Pitt-Johnstown’s only basket during that stretch came on a jumper by Smith with just over 8 minutes remaining. The Mountain Cats were 1-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-7 from the charity stripe during the Hilltopper surge. Joe Batt finally hit a 3-pointer to end the drought but with just 3:58 remaining, it was too little, too late.
The margin never dropped below double figures the rest of the way.
McKinney backed Robinson with 19 points while Bryce Butler had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Viktor Kovacevic played a strong game on both ends of the floor with 14 points and 7 rebounds while Moore was huge off the bench, charting a double-double of his own with 12 points and 11 boards. Eight of Moore’s points came during the decisive second-half surge.
Smith led all scorers with 26 points for UPJ, which also got 15 points from Batt and a dozen more from Fred Mulbah. All-Region forward John Paul Kromka finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The West Liberty men return home on Saturday to open the MEC portion of their schedule with a 4 p.m. tipoff against Alderson Broaddus inside the ASRC.