Dry Spell Proves Costly for Hilltopper Women
West Liberty Falls to Charleston in MEC Tournament Semifinal
WHEELING, W.Va. – A late comeback effort ran out of gas in the waning minutes here Saturday and the West Liberty University women's basketball team dropped a 72-65 decision to Charleston in a Mountain East Conference Tournament semifinal at WesBanco Arena.
Coach Kyle Cooper's No. 3-seeded Hilltoppers (21-9) led by as many 13 points in the first half but couldn't hold off the No. 2-seeded Golden Eagles (20-8), who moved one step closer to their second straight MEC Tournament title.
West Liberty closed out the first quarter with three consecutive 3-point bombs – two by sophomore Grace Faulk – to carry a 19-11 lead into the second 10-minute period.
The Hilltoppers kept right on rolling when play resumed and a Karly McCutcheon 3-pointer gave WLU its biggest lead of the day, 26-13, with 7:15 left in the opening half.
That turned out to be the high-water mark for West Liberty as the Hilltoppers' sizzling shooting touch deserted them and Charleston began to slowly chip away at the lead. The Hilltoppers made just one shot from the floor over the final 7:15 of the quarter – another Faulk 3-pointer – but still managed to carry a 31-28 lead into halftime.
Unfortunately for WLU, the offensive struggles continued throughout the third quarter and into the fourth as UC completely flipped the script. A 3-pointer by Charleston post Sierra Davis – her fourth of the day – gave the Golden Eagles their largest lead, 58-45, at 6:37 of the fourth quarter.
At that point, West Liberty had been outscored by a 45-19 margin since taking that 13-point lead in the second quarter.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Charleston," Cooper said. "They're a team that hunts match-ups and puts a lot of pressure on you to make decisions. We had a stretch where we didn't make the right choices frequently enough and Charleston took advantage. That's what good basketball teams do."
With their backs to the wall and the season on the line, the Black and Gold came storming back. The Hilltoppers scored 12 of the next 14 points and when Faulk capped the run with her fourth 3-pointer of the game, West Liberty had cut the lead to 60-57 with 2:39 to go.
But when Charleston scored at the other end on a slick backdoor cut by Abby Lee and went 4-for-4 from the foul line after WLU misfired on its next two possessions, the Hilltoppers had run out of time. The Golden Eagles went 10-for-14 from the charity stripe in the final two minutes to close out the win.
"Super proud of our girls for finding a way to make a run late in the game," Cooper said. "We put some shots and stops together to get it down to a one-possession game but just couldn't get over the hump.
"We probably needed to get one or two more stops and one or two more shots to fall but Charleston made their free throws and we just couldn't get there today."
Senior guard Audrey Tingle wrapped up her record-setting career with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Ranked among the national leaders in multiple categories this season, Tingle pushed her career totals to an eye-popping 1,241 points, 997 rebounds and 856 assists.
"I can't say enough about Audrey Tingle," Cooper said. "She's been with me all five years and I can tell you she is a testament to a total student-athlete. The numbers are incredible but they pale in comparison to the type of person she is and what she's meant to our program. Audrey always put the team first and I'm forever indebted to her."
Faulk tied a career-high with 18 points and didn't miss a shot all day, going 6-for-6 from the floor – 4-for-4 from the 3-point arc – and 2-for-2 from the foul line. MEC Freshman of the Year Bailee Smith scored 10 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Markyia McCormick and Trinity Palacio had 17 points each for UC while Davis finished with 16 points.