Smith's 34 Points Keys Huge Road Win for WLU Women

Smith's 34 Points Keys Huge Road Win for WLU Women

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – Bailee Smith poured in a career-high 34 points and the West Liberty women never trailed in the second half here Saturday in coasting to a 93-80 win against Fairmont State inside Joe Retton Arena.

   The win completed a season sweep of the Falcons (13-12, 11-9) for Coach Kyle Cooper's Hilltoppers (18-7, 13-6) and kept the Black and Gold locked in a third-place tie with West Virginia State heading into the final week of the Mountain East Conference's regular season.

   "That was a huge win for our program," Cooper said. "Coming down the stretch of the regular season with so much on the line for every game and getting it done on the road really shows the growth and resilience of this group. They played with a ton of trust in one another from start to finish and that's what anchored us through the challenging moments and allowed us to finish off that win."

   Neither team led by more than six points during a tightly-played first half but an 11-2 Hilltopper surge over the final two minutes put the visitors up, 40-36, at intermission. West Liberty never trailed again.

   Fairmont knocked down the first two baskets of the second half to produce the game's final deadlock, 40-40, but Corinne Thomas book-ended a 10-0 WLU run with two of her six 3-pointers on the day to give the Black and Gold their first double-digit lead, 50-40.

   The Falcons answered with a 7-0 run of their own but Karly McCutcheon fed Molly Bauer for a layup inside and Bailee Smith followed with a 3-point bomb and a twisting layup to restore the 10-point margin, 57-47. Sierra Kotchman got a 12-foot fadeaway to fall at the other end but Thomas drained yet another 3-pointer and the Hilltoppers were on their way.

   The hosts never got closer than seven points in the fourth quarter and West Liberty canned 10-of-12 free throws in the final 90 seconds to put the game on ice.

   Smith was virtually unstoppable on the afternoon, sinking 10-of-19 shots from the floor - highlighted by a 4-for-5 showing from behind the 3-point arc - while also going 10-for-12 from the foul line in putting up a WLU season-high 34 points.

   Thomas added 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting from deep while Arriana Manzay worked the paint for 15 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks while shooting 6-for-7 from the floor. Senior point guard Audrey Tingle made another run at a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, while quarterbacking an outstanding team effort for WLU at both ends of the floor.

   "As a coaching staff, we're obviously proud of how well we played," Cooper said, "but we're even more proud of how our players responded to the things we asked of them in terms of in-game adjustments - especially in a game that seemed to call for those adjustments almost on every play."

   Katy Darnell came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points for Fairmont State. Kotchman and Alyssa DeAngelo finished with 14 points each while Jertaya Hall rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points.

   West Liberty shot 51 percent (29-of-57) from the floor, 45 percent (10-of-22) from the 3-point arc and 81 percent (25-of-31) from the foul line. The Hilltoppers committed 23 turnovers to just 11 for the hosts but made up for that with a 38-31 rebounding advantage while holding the Falcons to just 40 percent (32-of-80) shooting from the floor, including a mere 5-of-23 (21 percent) from the 3-point arc.

   The Hilltopper women look to build on their momentum on Wednesday when they close out the home portion of the regular season schedule with a 5:30 p.m. Senior Night tipoff against Notre Dame (Ohio).

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