INSTITUTE, W.Va. - West Virginia State battled the game back to one possession with two minutes to play, but a 10-for-11 free throw effort down the stretch by the No. 16/12 ranked West Liberty University men's basketball team sealed the deal for a 102-97 Hilltopper victory on the road Wednesday night.
Bryce Butler scored a game-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting along with five rebounds and a team-leading six assists to help lift the 'Toppers to their third straight win. Christian Montague and Steve Cannady added three triples apiece netting 16 and 15 points, respectively, while Malik McKinney cut his chase to 1K points down to 10 with 12 points, eight of which in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets (15-6, 9-6) jumped out in front with a 10-2 start in front of their rowdy home crowd. West Liberty (18-3, 13-2) chipped away and then took control of the contest off a 12-0 run from the 9:32-7:37 mark in the opening frame. Montague scored the first two buckets on the run, as WLU made five straight shots to get ahead by double digits for the first time (33-23).
The largest first half lead reached 15 points (50-35) in favor of the Black and Gold with just under three minutes left in the half off a Zach Rasile three pointer. 10 Hilltoppers scored in the opening 20 minutes, while Cannady and Butler paced the team with 10 each. WLU drained 11 of its 15 three pointers in the first half and held WVSU to just two long balls in the first 20 and six total in the game.
West Liberty maintained control of a back-and-forth battle in the second half leading by seven or more for nearly the first 16 minutes. An 0-for-5 stretch from the Hilltoppers, all of which three point attempts, led to an 8-0 West Virginia State run to make it a two-point game (92-90) with two minutes to play.
The Hilltoppers clinched the victory with free throws, not recording a field goal for the final 5:58 in the game. West Liberty went 12-for-13 in the last nearly six minutes and 10-for-11 in the final two minutes with visits by five different players. The team ended the night 21-for-28 from the free throw line, tying a season-high for made free throws in a game.
WLU owned a +12-turnover margin (20-8) and turned the 20 Yellow Jacket turnovers into 25 points. Cannady swiped a career-high five steals to lead the defense.
The Hilltoppers assisted on 22 of its 33 made shots.
West Liberty will be back inside the ASRC on Saturday hosting Charleston for a 4 pm tip off.