Late Surge Carries West Liberty Women Past Malone

Late Surge Carries West Liberty Women Past Malone

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The surging West Liberty University women's basketball team outscored Malone (Ohio), 16-4, over the final six minutes here Saturday inside the ASRC to finish off an impressive 71-65 comeback win.

   It was the seventh win in the last eight games for Coach Kyle Cooper's youthful Hilltoppers (9-3), who trailed by double-figures in both halves before storming back to stun the visiting Pioneers (7-3).

   "Give Malone's players and coaches a lot of credit," Cooper said. "They came in here with a great game plan and carved us up pretty good in the first half. We made some adjustments at halftime to clean that up and I'm so proud of these young women for the resilience and effort they showed out there today, especially coming down the stretch."

   The Pioneers led by as many as 15 points in the first half before settling for a 37-24 advantage at halftime. They were still up by a dozen points, 43-31, following a Kelsey Swihart hoop at 7:57 of the third quarter but WLU's Bailee Smith answered with a 3-pointer off an assist from Audrey Tingle and the Hilltoppers hit the comeback trail.

   Locking down on the defensive end, West Liberty outscored Malone, 16-5, over the next six minutes with a Grace Faulk 3-pointer closing the gap to 48-47 with 1:13 remaining in the quarter. The Pioneers' Holly Groff wrapped a pair of bonus bombs around an Arriana Manzay post move in the final minute for a 54-49 Malone advantage at the break but West Liberty was back in business.

   "As I've said before, one of the things that makes this group special is that they want to be coached; they want accountability," Cooper said. "We challenged some people at halftime and they responded. That's what makes coaching these young women so much fun."

   The teams traded baskets for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter and it appeared that Malone might have weathered the storm when Groff curled inside for a layup and a 61-55 Pioneer lead as the clock ticked under six minutes.

   As it turned out, that was definitely not the case. West Liberty slammed a virtual lid on the Pioneer basket for the next six minutes while Manzay, Tingle and Smith wore out the nets at the other end of the floor.

   Manzay squeezed inside for another layup after Groff's hoop and a Tingle free throw cut the lead in half, 61-58, at the under-5 media timeout. The Hilltoppers got another defensive stop coming out of the break and Manzay cashed in a conventional 3-point play to knot the score, 61-61, with 4:34 left to play. It was the game's first tie since a 4-4 deadlock shortly after the opening tip.

   Alexis Hutchison gave Malone its final lead of the game, 63-61, on a drive to the hoop with 3:27 remaining but Tingle was fouled in transition and canned both charity tosses just seven seconds later for a 63-63 tie.

   Following a couple of empty possessions by both teams, Tingle found Smith above the top of the jump circle for an open 3-point look. Smith's rainbow hit the back of the iron, caromed straight up into the air and dropped straight through the twine for a 66-63 Hilltopper lead with just 2:22 remaining.

   The teams traded defensive stops until Tingle cleared a huge rebound off a missed Malone 3-pointer with 44 seconds to go and West Liberty called a quick timeout. The hosts ran the shot clock down into single digits before Tingle scored over a pair of PIoneer defenders to put the game out of reach, 68-63, with just 16 seconds to go.

   Manzay had another incredible game in the paint, hitting 10-of-13 shots from the floor and grabbing 13 rebounds to go along with her game-high 21 points. The 6-3 junior post is an eye-popping 29-of-34 from the field in her last three games. Smith added 19 points while Tingle – who never left the floor on Saturday – added 18 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists.

   Groff paced four double-figure scorers for Malone with 15 points.

   The West Liberty women will take a couple weeks off for the holidays before returning to the court on Jan. 5 when they host Mountain East Conference rival Concord. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. inside the ASRC.

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