No. 8 Hilltoppers Pull Away in Second Half

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 8-ranked West Liberty University men's basketball team shook off a sluggish start to post its eighth straight win, pulling away to an 85-67 victory against Concord in Mountain East Conference action inside the ASRC.

   Coach Ben Howlett's streaking Hilltoppers (12-1, 6-1) led just 40-32 at intermission but wasted little time dashing the Mountain Lions (4-8, 2-5) upset hopes when play resumed.

   Leading 49-44 following a 3-pointer by Concord's Matt Weir at the 14:26 mark, West Liberty answered with a rebound hoop from freshman guard Austin Webb and a 3-point bomb by senior post Viktor Kovacevic.

   The Hilltoppers weren't finished. Pat Robinson scored on an offensive put-back and Kovacevic – a graduate transfer from Quincy (Ill.) – splashed home another 3-point bomb for a 59-44 WLU lead and the Mountain Lions never recovered. West Liberty continued to add to the margin the rest of the night, pushing the lead as high as 23 points before coasting to the wire.

   "It may not look like it from the score but this was a really hard-fought win," Howlett said. "There were times when I didn't think we were putting a very good product on the floor but I thought Concord had something to do with that. They played us very tough, especially on the defensive end. I've said it before. Any time you walk away with a win in this league, you've had a good night."

   Bryce Butler led all scorers for the Hilltoppers with 19 points while handing out 4 assists. Robinson finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds while Kovacevic added 10 points and 5 boards despite playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble. Marlon Moore Jr. more than picked up the slack, coming off the bench to yank down a career-high 15 rebounds in only 15 minutes of court time.

   "It was a little sloppy today," Kovacevik said, "but we never stopped trusting each other and trusting the process. I think that maturity is what showed through in the second half when we were able to create some separation."

   Weir paced Concord with 17 points but Lual Rahama was the only other Mountain Lion in double figures with 14 tallies. Both teams finished with 17 turnovers – one shy of a season-high for WLU – but the Hilltoppers had a huge advantage off the glass, winning the rebounding battle by a 49-28 margin.

   "We didn't share the ball very well tonight, especially in the first half," Howlett said. "We over-dribbled at times and took too many contested shots instead of making one more pass that would have created an open look. There's no such thing a bad win but those are things we need to clean that up before we go down to Glenville on Saturday."

   Tipoff for Saturday's game at the Waco Center is set for 4 p.m.

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