West Liberty women bounced

GLENVILLE, W.Va. Charity began at home for the No. 9-ranked Glenville State women’s basketball team Friday night as the Pioneers used a big edge at the free throw line to rally past upset-minded West Liberty, 82-70, in an NCAA Division II Atlantic Region quarterfinal in the friendly confines of Lilly Gym.

The No. 8 seed Hilltoppers (20-11) and top-seeded Glenville (29-3) had split their regular season series but WLU had trouble keeping its starters on the court Friday as the Black and Gold battled foul problems from the opening tip.

The Pioneers were in the bonus less than four minutes into the game and four West Liberty starters had already been whistled for their second foul before the first five minutes had ticked off the clock.

Glenville made the most of the opportunity, knocking down a staggering 19-of-19 free throws in the first half alone. As a result, the Hilltoppers entered the halftime locker room on the short end of a 45-38 count despite having the edge in field goals (15-12) and 3-point field goals (4-2).

A strong defensive effort had kept West Liberty in the game for the first 20 minutes and that continued when play resumed as Coach Lynn Ullom’s Hilltoppers held the Pioneers to just two points over the first five minutes of the second half. West Liberty outscored Glenville, 12-2, over that span to take a 50-47 lead and the margin swelled to four points, 55-51, on a Liz Flowers 3-pointer with 12:48 remaining.

The Hilltoppers still led at the 10-minute mark but the foul problems that plagued WLU all night now became a major factor as starters Kailee Howe, Kiki Simpson and Bri Kamarec had all been saddled with their fourth foul.

Tiffani Huffman’s driving layup put Glenville back on top, 59-58, with 9:44 to go, sparking a nerve-wracking sequence that saw the lead change hands five times in little more than 90 seconds.

Briauna Nix’s 8-foot jumper at the 8:11 mark ended that flurry. It also gave the Pioneers a 63-62 lead they would never relinquish. The scrappy Hilltopper squad went cold from the perimeter and made only three shots the rest of the night while Glenville pulled away at the charity stripe.

“We battled incredibly hard for 32 minutes,” Ullom said, “but our youth and inexperience showed down the stretch. We haven’t handled adversity well at times this season and we let things get away from us a little bit at the end.”

Flowers led all scorers with a game-high 26 points 19 of them in the second half. Howe joined her in double-figures with 15 points but had just two after intermission while battling foul trouble. Simpson added 9 points and 9 rebounds but played just 18 minutes before fouling out. Colleen McCormick came off the bench for 8 points and 8 rebounds.

“First of all, Glenville’s really good,” Ullom said. “They have Division I size and Division I talent but I was proud of the way our girls competed. They didn’t give in, went after every loose ball and forced a lot of tough shots. We only had 16 turnovers, outrebounded them on the night and we had 22 offensive rebounds. We gave ourselves a chance.”

Kenyona Simmons had 21 points and 9 rebounds while Tasia Bristow added 21 points and 4 assists. The Pioneer pair was a combined 17-for-19 from the foul line.

West Liberty held Glenville which leads the nation in scoring and 3-point field goals to just 34 percent (25-of-73) shooting from the floor and 13 percent (3-of-22) shooting from the 3-point arc but could only stand by helplessly as the home team went 29-of-33 (88 percent) from the foul line.

Despite also struggling from the floor (27-of-79, .341) and the 3-point line (6-of-31, .194), WLU made more field goals and 3-point field goals than the Pioneers but went just (10-for-16, .625) from the charity stripe and couldn’t overcome that 19-point differential.

“The bottom line is they shot 33 free throws tonight,” Ullom said. “We’re just not deep enough or experienced enough to sit key kids for extended periods of time against a team like that. It was great to get back to the NCAA Tournament, especially with a young team like ours. Now we need to go home and find a way to do this again next year.”