Hilltoppers defeat Fairmont State

By Marissa Wetterau, Sports Editor

The first Top 10 showdown in Mountain East Conference history more than lived up to its hype Saturday afternoon as  No. 1-ranked West Liberty defeated No. 8-ranked Fairmont State, 88-86, in front of a deafening crowd at the ASRC.

“I think you’d have to say everybody got their money’s worth today,” Hilltopper head coach Jim Crutchfield said with a smile. “I don’t think there’s any question we saw two of the best teams in (NCAA) Division II basketball giving it everything they had from the opening tip to the final buzzer.”

The game was played with the intensity of a March Madness tournament, there were a staggering 10 ties and 17 lead changes. Neither team led by more than seven points at any time during the afternoon. 

Fairmont State (6-1, 3-1) took a 45-40 lead into the locker room at halftime but junior guard Devin Hoehn and a key defensive decision helped swing momentum toward the Black and Gold when play resumed.

Hoehn, who had scored his 1,000th career point during Thursday’s win against Shepherd, hit his first 3-pointer of the game less than 15 seconds into the second half and kept right on rolling.

The 6’3 junior poured in 14 of his 22 points in the first 6 ½ minutes of the second half as West Liberty turned that 45-40 halftime deficit into a 63-58 lead.

Freshman guard Brady Arnold capped that surge with a conventional 3-point play off a Mike Lamberti feed as the clock ticked under 13 minutes.

“We were struggling to get stops in our ‘man’ defense because Fairmont was getting to the rim and either scoring or drawing a foul,” Crutchfield said. “We went to the zone in hopes of containing that. We were far from perfect in it but, even though we don’t play or practice the zone all that much, I think it was a positive for us.”

All-American Seger Bonifant hit a pair of free throws with 6:23 remaining for a 76-75 West Liberty lead. The hosts never trailed again but the story was far from over.

West Liberty got a defensive stop but turned the ball over while trying to run off some clock and Davis went coast-to-coast with the loose ball for a layup, cutting the lead to 87-86 with 45 seconds still to play. The Hilltoppers turned it over again with 28 seconds left and the Falcons’ Jamel Morris was fouled on a drive to the hoop with 11 ticks showing.

Fairmont fouled Lamberti with 5 seconds left and he made the first of two free throws. The second one rolled off the iron and Morris tried to take it end to end only to hear the buzzer sound before he could get off a shot. Bingaya led Fairmont with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Morris, Vonte Montgomery and Chase Connor rounded out FSU’s double-figure scorers with 11 points each.

The Hilltoppers will be idle this week for semester exams but return to action on Dec. 13 with a 4 p.m. non-conference game against Clarion (Pa.).

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