West Liberty gets back to winning ways, 77-61

WEST LIBERTY – West Liberty’s 77-61 men’s college basketball victory against West Virginia Wesleyan on Thursday night was a far cry from the Hilltoppers’ 27-point road triumph against the Bobcats a little more than a month ago.

But West Liberty head coach Jim Crutchfield isn’t looking for style points, just wins. And the No. 6-ranked Hilltoppers’ 22nd of the season before a packed house inside the ASRC came against one of the hottest teams in the Mountain East Conference.

”I like the win,” Crutchfield said after his team improved to 18-2 inside the MEC. ”We’re not trying to score 100 points. We’re just trying to outscore our opponent.

”We didn’t shoot the ball really well, yet we beat a good team by 16 points, and that’s the bottom line here.”

Wesleyan (17-10 overall, 12-7 MEC), who entered the game having won eight of 10 and in a three-way tie for second in the MEC, tried to slow things down in an effort to thwart the top-ranked team in the Atlantic Region, but to no avail.

”I felt like we defended their man-to-man offense pretty well,” said Crutchfield, who picked up his 150th victory in the last five seasons. ”They ran the shot clock down numerous times which reduced the number of possessions in the game.

”The bottom line is we had a double-digit lead from the first half on.”

West Liberty – which clinched the MEC regular-season crown last Thursday – jumped out to an 8-0 lead before Wesleyan closed the gap to 10-8 with 13 minutes left in the opening half.

From there, the Hilltoppers exploded for a 16-1 run, capped by a Cedric Harris jumper making the score 26-9.

Harris finished with a season-high 29 points and career-best six steals.

”Their guards are smaller than most guards, so we isolated him on the blocks a few times,” Crutchfield noted. ”I thought he had a really good all-around game.”

Crutchfield was really impressed by Harris’ defense, especially on the Bobcats’ leading scorer, T.J. Thompson, who finished with 20.

”Thompson stepped out and hit a couple of quick 3s and (Cedric) jumped in and said ‘Let me take him,”’ Crutchfield said. ”Usually when a guy says that I’m the first guy that says ‘Absolutely. If you want him, you can have him.’ Because if a guy’s on a mission they play better defense.

”When Cedric started guarding him, (Thompson) had to work hard not only to score, but just get the ball in his hands.”

Thompson looked to be on a mission midway through the second half when he drained three straight 3-pointers to bring Wesleyan, coached by former West Virginia University standout Patrick Beilein, within 12 at 54-42.

Moments later, Chris Dewberry knocked in a jumper making the score 55-46.

But West Liberty responded with three straight baskets by Serger Bonifant, CJ Hester and Harris making the score 61-46.

From there, the Hilltoppers went ahead by as many as 17 before closing things out.

Keene Cockburn added 11 points and a team-high 11 boards for the Toppers.

Brett Ervin backed up Thompson with 18 points, while Tanner McGrew had 10.

West Liberty returns to action at 4 p.m. Saturday at Glenville State before finishing the regular season at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 1 at home with Wheeling Jesuit.