WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. - The No. 8/10 West Liberty University men's basketball team avenged an early season loss and finished its regular season slate with a 103-91 victory over crosstown rival Wheeling Saturday afternoon inside the ASRC.
The Hilltoppers end the regular season 25-3 overall, 20-2 in conference, and 14-0 on their home court. Wheeling falls to 6-22 overall and 4-18 in MEC action.
In front of a packed house, the teams delivered a thriller. Early on West Liberty jumped up 17-12 just over five minutes into the game, but a 6-0 spurt by Wheeling erased that quickly. The Hilltoppers came right back with a run of their own to go up seven, their largest edge in the first half. A back-and-forth battle ensued as the Cardinals chipped away and they outscored the Black and Gold 19-8 over the final five minutes of the first half to take an eight-point (51-43) lead into the break.
West Liberty came out firing in the second half hitting three consecutive three point attempts, two by Christian Montague and one by Ben Sarson, and scored 11 of the first 13 points in the half to regain the lead (54-53) just two minutes in.
The score stayed within four points over the next six minutes, until an 8-1 spurt put the Hilltoppers up eight (73-69). The Cardinals would not go away hitting clutch three after clutch three to stay in the game.
A Cardinal three ball at the six minute mark brought the game back within two points (82-80 in favor of WLU). Then it was West Liberty's turn for some big threes. The Hilltoppers hit four of their next six long ball attempts from the five and half minute mark to under two minutes left to stretch their lead to seven (96-89). Rasile started the triple spree, Montague added two, and Sarson capped it off. Sarson's three started a quick 7-0 run in less than a minute for West Liberty to take the first double-digit lead of the game (100-89) and put the game away approaching the one minute mark.
Bryce Butler led the Hilltoppers with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double, while also charting five assists, three steals and a block. Montague totaled 19 points featuring a game-high five three pointers along with seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Malik McKinney added 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting with five assists, while Sarson finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
West Liberty assisted on 20 of its 35 made shots. Despite a 31.6% to 53.3% disadvantage in three-point percentage, the Hilltoppers outshot Wheeling 12-8 from beyond the arc. Nine of WLU's 12 threes came in the second half.
The Hilltoppers had a +9-turnover margin forcing 23 Cardinal turnovers and had 16 steals. They recorded a 25-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
WLU also owned a 21-15 offensive rebounding edge and outscored Wheeling 24-11 in second chance points. Butler pulled in eight of his 13 rebounds on the offensive end.
The Ohio County battle featured 10 ties and eight lead changes. Six of the ties and three of the lead changes came in the second half.
West Liberty will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MEC Tournament at WesBanco Arena. The Hilltoppers earned a bye to the quarterfinals on Friday at 6 pm and will await the winner of No. 8 Concord and No. 9 Alderson Broaddus.