West Liberty, W. Va. – Back in January, the Wheeling University Men's Basketball team (6-23, 4-18) upset the #15 team in the country in their annual "Battle for Wheeling." On Saturday, the rematch took place on the hilltop as the Cardinals fell to the Hilltoppers 103-91. Despite the loss, Wheeling was able to clinch the #10 seed in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) Tournament field and will be heading back to WesBanco Arena later this week.
The Cardinals got out to a fast start once again on the hilltop, just like they did on their home floor. West Liberty would score the first two points of the game and got out to a 9-4 lead over the first two and a half minutes of play. Marcus Johnson completed a three-point play following a layup and Brent Price added a three-pointer of his own over the next two minutes and Wheeling was staked to 10-9 lead with 15:56 to play in the first. The Cardinal's lead wouldn't last long, however, as the Hilltoppers would go on a 6-2 run over the next minute and at the first media timeout it was 17-12. It would end up being a game of runs over the next five minutes and when the second media timeout of the half, it was a 29-26 game after a Johnson layup.
Layups by Price and Zion Suddeth would pull the Cardinals to within one point of the Hilltoppers, and a pair of Korte free throws with 6:02 to play made the score 33-32. West Liberty's Malik McKinney hit a layup to push the Hilltopper's lead to three, but Ryan Reasbeck hit the first of his four three-pointers to tie the game at 35-35. After a Bryce Butler jumper, Price added another three-pointer and the lead was back on the Cardinals side for the first time since the early portions of the half. That three-pointer would start a 7-0 run for the Cardinals and they were out to their biggest lead of the day at 42-37. The Cardinals would hold that lead for the rest of the half and, as they did in their first meeting, Wheeling went into the locker room leading 51-43.
As they came out of the locker room, that lead would begin to dip as West Liberty scored the first eight points of the half to tie things at 51-51. The lead would change hands four times over the next four minutes until the two teams were once again deadlocked at 57-57. Johnson single-handedly led the team on a 4-0 run and pushed the Cardinals lead to 61-57. However, the Hilltoppers once again battled back and by the first media timeout it was 61-61. Reasbeck hit a layup to put Wheeling back up 63-61 as the back and forth continued over the next three minutes. The teams were tied up at The teams were tied up at 65-65 with 13:21 to play and West Liberty would hit the next big run. The Hilltoppers scored eight of the next nine points and Wheeling responded with a 6-2 run and it was 75-72 Hilltoppers heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
For every run that West Liberty had, Wheeling had an answer and stayed within three points of West Liberty. With 6:18 to play, Reasbeck hit another big three-pointer to make it an 82-80 game and a West Liberty three-pointer pushed the game to 85-82, and it started an 8-2 run for West Liberty that made it 90-84. As the Cardinals have done all season, they battled back late in the game and got as close as 93-89 with 2:05 left to play. However, Wheeling was only held to two more points the rest of the game and West Liberty went on to win 103-91. Reasbeck would end the Cardinals scoring with a pair of free throws as the team dropped to 4-18 in MEC play. Because they swept the season series with Frostburg State, the Cardinals won the tiebreaker and clinched the final playoff spot.
Leading the way for the Cardinals was Ryan Reasbeck off the bench, as he set a career-high with 24 points. He hit eight shots on the night, four of those being three-pointers, as he went 4-6 (66.7%) from three-point range. Brent Price was next, adding 19 points to the effort and was just shot of a double-double with a team-high nine rebounds. The final two double figures scorers for the Cardinals were Marcus Johnson (17) and John Korte (12) as the team reached the 90-point mark for the seventh time this season. As the Cardinals head to the MEC Tournament, they look to continue that offensive success as they try and use their close game experience this season to lead them in those high-intensity moments.
The Wheeling University Men's Basketball team now prepares for round one of the MEC Tournament when they battle #7 seeded Glenville State Wednesday at 6 PM.