9th Straight Win for No. 2-Ranked Hilltoppers

9th Straight Win for No. 2-Ranked Hilltoppers

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – The No. 2-ranked West Liberty men opened up a 20-point lead in the first 10 minutes here Wednesday and cruised to a 114-76 blowout of Frostburg State inside a raucous ASRC.

   It was the ninth consecutive win and 19th in the last 20 games for Coach Ben Howlett's streaking Hilltoppers (23-2, 17-2), who now have a two-game lead with just three games remaining in their quest for a fifth straight Mountain East Conference title.

   "That was a great start tonight," Howlett said. "Maybe the best start we've had all season, especially since we weren't having a great shooting night from the perimeter, but our press really got into them and created a lot of easy transition chances."

   The scrappy Bobcats (6-19, 4-15) didn't run up the white flag after West Liberty's sizzling start. Taking advantage of WLU's shooting woes, Frostburg State scored 14 of the next 16 points to trail just 36-28 with more than six minutes left in the half.

   Following a quick timeout, the Hilltoppers reeled off 10 straight points to restore order with a 46-28 advantage and coasted into intermission with a 51-36 halftime lead.

   "I was disappointed with the way we took our foot off the gas in the last few minutes of the half but we responded pretty well after they made their run. I thought we passed the ball extremely well in the second half and that's what enabled us to really stretch things out."

   Pat Robinson and Bryce Butler led the way for West Liberty. Robinson led all scorers with 21 points while handing out a game-high 5 assists and collecting three of WLU's 16 steals. Butler went 3-for-4 from the 3-point arc and stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points - all in the first half - to go along with a team-high 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.

   Zach Rasile came off the bench to hit four 3-pointers and score 15 points while Marlon Moore Jr. had 14 points, 3 steals and 2 assists in just 14 minutes of action. Ben Sarson's 11 points rounded out the double-figure scorers.

   Canaan Bartley had 14 of his team-high 19 points in the first half for Frostburg State. Agyei Edwards and Jihar Williams finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Micheal Tate Jr. added 10 points to the visitors' ledger.

   Up next for the Hilltoppers is a trip to No. 16-ranked Fairmont State on Saturday. The Falcons (20-4, 15-4) overcame a 19-point deficit in the final 13 minutes to shock West Liberty, 100-97, in their first meeting of the season a month ago inside the ASRC.

   A WLU victory on Saturday would clinch at least a share of that fifth straight MEC championship while also keeping the Hilltoppers near the top of the national and regional rankings heading into the final week of the regular season.

   "Obviously a huge basketball game for both teams this late in the season," Howlett said. "Our guys know exactly what's at stake and we've had that game circled on the calendar ever since they beat us here last month.

   "We've got our work cut out for us. Fairmont's a really good basketball team, tremendously well-coached and very tough to beat in their building. We will definitely have to rise to the challenge."

   TIpoff is set for 4 p.m. inside Joe Retton Arena.

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