Men's Basketball Drops All Out Effort Against West Liberty
Wheeling, W. Va. – The Mountain East Conference (MEC) tournament rolled on for the quarterfinals on Friday night. The Wheeling University Men's Basketball team fought their hearts out but fell to West Liberty 89-81. The Cardinals hung around with the Hilltoppers for most of the game but came up just short in the end.
"I thought this game was a microcosm for our entire season," said Wheeling Head Men's Basketball Coach Chris Richardson. " We have been so close all year and at times you wonder is this going to be the one that breaks us, but I have never had to worry about that with this group. These guys played their hearts out tonight and their buy-in from the time I was hired as a head coach to now has been incredible."
Early on the matchup had a much similar look to the final game of the regular season as the Hilltoppers came out and scored the first eight points of the game. Then, Jay Gentry would get the Wheeling offense going with a three at the 16:09 mark of the first half to make the score 8-3. From there, the Cardinals defense would have to step up and keep the fast-paced Hilltoppers off the board. They allowed just six points over the next five minutes of play and allowed their offense a chance to fight back. Jordan Reid made a jumper to start the run and Jarett Haines made a jumper and a pair of free throws that made it 16-9 as the teams reached the under 10-minute media timeout.
Over the final 10 minutes of the first half, Wheeling would find their groove as they slowly battled back in the game. The Hilltoppers extended their lead to 18-13 before Wheeling hit their first real run of the game to get back to within one point of the Hilltoppers. Haines and Reid were the main scorers again as the Cardinals made it a 20-19 game and were looking to take their first lead of the game. They weren't able to overcome the Hilltoppers, but they kept it a single-digit game the rest of the way. West Liberty built a 26-21 lead just before the final first-half media timeout, but Wheeling went shot for shot with them through the final five minutes. As the teams broke for the locker room, West Liberty maintained their six-point lead and Wheeling would look to keep scoring.
Coming out of the half, Reid got the offense going with a layup and the teams would go back and forth for the remainder of the game. The six-point halftime deficit would remain through the first five minutes of the second half. As they reached the first media timeout West Liberty led 49-43 as Wheeling schemed a way to get back in the game. Brent Price and Jordan Reid kept the scoring going before Wheeling nearly took their first lead of the game. Andrew Taylor started it with a layup and Wheeling scored the next six points to bring the score even at 55-55. However, West Liberty would score the next bucket and the Hilltoppers led 57-55 as the game entered its final 10 minutes.
The atmosphere inside the WesBanco arena was electric and the teams on the floor matched that intensity. The Cardinals kept it a three-point game for the next two minutes before West Liberty extended the lead with an 11-0 run that opened the score up to 74-60 with just under five minutes left in the game. Now it was Wheeling's turn to respond and they did so accordingly. They when on a 10-4 run of their own and were within eight points of the Hilltoppers with three to play. However, it became a game of free throw with under two minutes to play as the Hilltoppers went 3-4 from the charity stripe. Haines made one final layup as time wound down, but West Liberty got the win and moved on to the semifinals.
It was a big day for Wheeling's two senior leaders as Haines and Reid were both over the 20-point mark in the game. Haines led the way with 28 points and shot just over 50% from the floor while leading the passing effort with four assists. Reid followed him up with a 24-point effort and finished the night with a double-double. He led the defensive effort with 11 rebounds, eight of those coming in the first half. JAY Gentry rounded out the night with 15 points while hitting four three-pointers. As a team, the Cardinals shot just under 47% from the field and just over 30% from beyond the arc.
The Wheeling Men's Basketball team now heads to the off-season looking to expand on this performance and start the journey back to WesBanco Arena.