No. 5 Hilltoppers Blast New Haven in Elite Eight Opener
Will Meet #21 Black Hills State (S.D.) in Thursday’s National Semifinals
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The No. 5-ranked West Liberty University men’s basketball team hit the court running on Tuesday and never took their foot off the gas as the Hilltoppers opened the NCAA Division II Elite Eight run with a 95-58 rout of East Region champion New Haven (Conn.) inside the Ford Center.
With the win, Coach Ben Howlett’s No. 2-seeded Black and Gold improved to 32-3 on the season and advanced to the NCAA D2 national semifinals for the fifth time in school history. WLU will take on third-seeded and No. 21-ranked Black Hills State (28-5) Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. (EDT).
“Really happy for our guys today,” Howlett said. “I thought we executed our game plan very well. We wanted to use our defensive pressure to wear them down and I think we saw some of that. We’ll let ourselves feel good about this one for about 15 minutes and then start getting ready for a very good Black Hills State team.”
The Hilltoppers’ swarming defense overwhelmed the outgunned Chargers (23-11) from the opening tip. New Haven kept the damage to a minimum for the first few minutes, trailing just 10-4 after a Kendall McMillan layup at the 14:44 mark, but Christian Montague answered with a transition 3-pointer just 12 seconds later and the Hilltopper pressure shifted into overdrive.
West Liberty held the Chargers scoreless for the next four minutes while reeling off 14 unanswered points. New Haven head coach Ted Hotaling called a timeout after Alek West and Zach Rasile capped the blackout with back-to-back 3-pointers but the Hilltoppers were well on their way, leading 24-4 midway through the opening half.
“With their 2-guard offense, we wanted to challenge every catch and apply extreme ball pressure to take away the easy passes. They’re really good with that offense but it’s tough for a team playing with that deliberate style to come back from a significant deficit. Once we got the lead up to 15-20 points, our guys smelled blood in the water and that was pretty much it from that point.”
The Hilltoppers coasted into halftime with a 45-21 lead and led by as many as 40 points in the second half as Howlett substituted liberally throughout. Freshman guard Dante Spadafora was the only WLU player with more than 20 minutes of playing time, checking in at 20 minutes and 43 seconds.
Zach Rasile was 4-for-8 from the 3-point arc and paced West Liberty with 14 points. Bryce Butler added 13 points in 19 minutes with Montague and Fin Woodward adding 11 and 10 points, respectively. The Hilltoppers shot 51 percent (36-of-70) from the floor, 44 percent (16-of-36) from the 3-point arc and 78 percent (7-of-8) from the foul line while assisting on 28 of their 36 field goals.
New Haven got 12 points each from McMillan and Quashawn Lane along with 11 points from Ty Perry. Majur Majuk, the Chargers’ 7-1 senior post, was held to just 4 points but finished with 18 rebounds and four blocked shots.
ELITE EIGHT NOTEBOOK
X West Liberty’s 37-point winning margin in Tuesday’s national quarterfinal was the highest winning margin in an Elite Eight game since a 107-70 Jacksonville State (Fla.) win over Kentucky Wesleyan in a 1989 national quarterfinal
X The 16 3-point field goals are tied for second all-time at the Elite Eight with three other teams - including the 2011 West Liberty squad. The record is 23, set by Troy (Ga.) in a 126-123 win against Southern New Hampshire in the 1993 national semifinals
X The Hilltoppers improved their NCAA Tournament record to 33-13 (.717) – one of only five current NCAA Division II programs with a winning percentage of .700 or better in post-season play