No. 14 West Liberty Drops 108 on East Stroudsburg
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 14 West Liberty University men’s basketball team capped a big weekend with a big win here Saturday night, pounding perennial NCAA Division II Atlantic Region power East Stroudsburg, 108-93, to close out the Atlantic Region Crossover event inside the ASRC.
Coach Ben Howlett’s high-flying Hilltoppers (2-0), fresh off Friday’s 104-82 thumping of defending CIAA Tournament champion Winston-Salem State, got an incredibly efficient game-high 30 points from All-Region guard Pat Robinson III and led by as many as 25 points in the second half.
“Pat was really special tonight,” Howlett said, “especially during that stretch in the second half where we were able to get some good separation. I thought we were a little loose with the ball again in the first half but there were times in the second half where we played really good basketball. Still have a few things to clean up but very happy to come out of this weekend 2-0.”
East Stroudsburg, which returned seven of its top 10 scorers from a 20-win team in 2019-20, came out smoking. The Warriors drained their first five shots from the floor to grab the upper hand, eventually opening up their largest lead of the night, 20-13, on a Troy Jones jumper in the lane with 12:12 on the first half clock.
The Hilltoppers answered with a 12-2 run to go up, 25-22, and the teams continued to trade leads for the next few minutes.
A Lakeen McAliley free throw tied the game at 36-36 for the visitors but a 3-point bomb from 6-8 grad transfer Viktor Kovacevic – his second of the game – put WLU ahead, 39-36, at 4:03 of the opening half.
West Liberty never trailed again. A pretty assist from Kovacevic to Zach Rasile produced the first double-digit lead of the night, 49-39, and the Hilltoppers carried a 52-45 lead into the locker room at the half.
Back-to-back baskets from Robinson and Bryce Butler quickly restored the double-digit lead when play resumed and the Black and Gold began to pull away thanks to a series of turnovers forced by their relentless full-court pressure.
West Liberty’s long-range shooting helped break the game wide open. Already leading 72-56 with just under 14 minutes on the clock, Butler drained a 3-pointer off a steal by Robinson and Robinson hit two more bonus bombs in a 30-second span to put the game on ice, 81-58, with more than 12 minutes still to play.
Robinson finished with 30 points on just 14 field goal attempts, hitting 9-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-5 from the 3-point arc to go along with a 9-of-12 showing at the charity stripe. He also chipped in with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
The All-Region standout didn’t lack scoring support. Butler had the first 20-point game of his career, Malik McKinney went 4-for-5 from behind the arc to knock down 14 points for the second time in as many nights and Rasile finished with 13 points. Kovacevic and Ben Sarson combined for 16 points and 9 rebounds before fouling out down the stretch and sophomore guard Christian Montague contributed 9 points and a game-high 7 assists.
After committing a dozen turnovers in the first half, West Liberty was charted with 14 assists and only 4 turnovers over the final 20 minutes. East Stroudsburg finished with just 10 assists against 26 turnovers.
Nevertheless, there were bright spots for the Warriors. After going just 1-for-22 from the 3-point arc in Friday’s 72-70 loss to Wheeling, ESU drained 8-of-16 3-point tries on Saturday and shot nearly 52 percent from the floor.
McAliley, Justin Paz, and Carlos Pepin tied for the team scoring honors with 17 points each. Senior guard Troy Jones added 15 and Mike Millsip chipped in with 11.
“This was a good weekend for us,” Howlett said. “Two big Atlantic Region wins that are going to keep paying dividends for the rest of the season. With two great coaches like Jeff Wilson (East Stroudsburg) and Cleo Hill Jr. (Winston-Salem), you know those teams are going to win a lot of basketball games.”
The Hilltoppers leave the friendly confines of the ASRC on Wednesday for another non-conference regional test, making the trek to Pitt-Johnstown to take on veteran coach Bob Rukavina and his Mountain Cats. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Johnstown.