INDIANA, Pa. - Bryce Butler scored a game-high 30 points and the second-seeded No. 5 West Liberty University men's basketball team held top-seeded No. 3 Indiana University of Pennsylvania to 30% shooting on way to a 70-53 victory in the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championship game Tuesday night inside a Kovalchick Convention & Athletic Complex that was filled with Black and Gold.
The Hilltoppers advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight held in Evansville, Indiana from March 21-25. It will be the seventh appearance in program history and second under Head Coach Ben Howlett.
It was a back-and-forth battle early on, as the first half saw 11 lead changes. West Liberty was able to take the first lead of more than one possession at the 6:24 mark off a 6-0 spurt. The Hilltoppers kept the lead the rest of the way and a Finley Woodward jumper just before the halftime horn gave them an eight-point (34-26) advantage at the break.
Ben Sarson drained a three pointer and Bryce Butler muscled up a bucket in the paint early in the second half to go up double digits (39-28) just over a minute and a half in.
West Liberty locked in and fended off every comeback attempt the Crimson Hawks made, not allowing more than five points in a row at any point in the second half.
The Hilltoppers held IUP without a field goal for the final 8:34 rolling to the regional title. Seven straight points from 4:42-3:18 erupted the West Liberty faithful and put the Black and Gold ahead 17, ultimately putting the game out of reach.
West Liberty finished the game shooting an even 50% from the floor (27-54), its sixth straight game in the postseason making at least 50% or better of its shots. Meanwhile, holding IUP to 30.2% shooting was a season-best defensive performance for WLU.
The Hilltoppers deep rotation netted 20 points off the bench and held the Crimson Hawks' reserves to zero points.
WLU had a +8-turnover margin (15-7), while outscoring IUP 12-5 in points off turnovers and 11-4 on the fast break.
West Liberty improves to 31-3 on the season and has won 16 straight games heading to the Elite Eight and knocks out the Crimson Hawks with a final 2022-23 record of 32-2. The eight remaining teams in the NCAA Division II Tournament will be reseeded for the Elite Eight.