No. 15 West Liberty's 1-2 Punch Delivers Knockout Blow
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – West Liberty's 1-2 punch of Pat Robinson III and Bryce Butler delivered a knockout blow to Wheeling here Saturday afternoon as the No. 15-ranked Black and Gold breezed to a 109-85 victory.
Robinson had 29 points, 8 rebounds and a career-high 5 steals while Butler added 26 points, 9 rebounds and a pair of blocks as Coach Ben Howlett's Hilltoppers (16-2, 10-2) hammered their Ohio County rivals.
“I thought our pressure was really good today,” Howlett said. “We weren’t shooting the ball very well from distance but we forced a lot of turnovers out of the press that led to easy buckets. We shared the ball pretty well with 20 assists, made our free throws and took care of business on the glass. Feeling pretty good after this one.”
The Cardinals (5-13, 4-8) kept things close for the first few minutes and actually held a 14-11 lead following an Andrew Taylor jumper at 13:09 of what to that point had been a rather methodically paced opening half.
West Liberty's full-court pressure suddenly began taking a toll and a trio of Wheeling turnovers fueled a 9-0 Hilltopper run over the next 90 seconds.
Robinson capped the surge with a conventional 3-point play for a 20-14 WLU lead at 11:29 and the Black and Gold were on their way.
West Liberty continued to force turnovers at an excessive rate and it wasn't long before the Cardinal deficit hit double figures and continued to grow. Robinson's steal and runout layup pushed the lead to 48-25 at the under-5 media timeout and the Hilltoppers coasted into halftime with a 59-41 advantage.
Despite shooting a dismal 4-of-20 from the 3-point arc in the first half, the Hilltoppers still made nearly as many made field goals (22) as Wheeling attempted (25) thanks to forcing the visitors into a staggering 17 turnovers over the first 20 minutes.
Things didn't get much better for the Cardinals when play resumed as West Liberty still struggled to make shots from the perimeter – the final 9-for-41 showing from the 3-point arc was among WLU's worst of the season – but took advantage of more Wheeling turnovers leading to easy 2-point hoops.
The Cardinals were never able to mount a sustained surge and West Liberty led by as many as 30 points in the waning minutes before settling for the final 24-point margin.
Robinson and Butler each finished the night 11-of-17 from the floor while combining to go 8-for-8 from the foul line and the dynamic duo had plenty of help.
Garrett Denbow added 14 points off the bench while starters Ben Sarson and Viktor Kovacevic each finished with 9 points despite spending only 18 and 16 minutes on the floor, respectively.
Marlon Moore Jr. had a productive 17 minutes with 8 points, 3 rebounds, a game-high 4 assists and 2 steals while Zach Rasile knocked down a couple of 3-pointers and checked off a lot of boxes with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Malik McKinney matched Robinson's 5 steals and added 3 assists despite battling foul trouble all night.
Jordan Reid put on a free throw shooting exhibition for Wheeling. The senior guard scored a game-high 31 points with the bulk of them coming from a 19-of-21 showing at the charity stripe. Taylor went 6-for-7 from the floor to join Reid in double figures with 14 points.
“We had a great crowd tonight and I think that helped us, as well,” Howlett said. “Anytime you beat a rival, it’s a good win. This was a good win for us.”
With Charleston's loss to West Virginia State on Saturday, the Hilltoppers moved back into a tie for the MEC lead with Fairmont State (15-2, 10-2). The Golden Eagles (12-3, 8-2) are all alone in third place, a half-game ahead of fast-rising West Virginia State (13-5, 8-3) – now riding an 8-game win streak.
West Liberty will try to keep it rolling on the road Wednesday night when they travel to Davis & Elkins for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.