West Liberty Men Power Past Malone in NCAA Opener0
WEST LIBERTY, W. Va. All-American Dalton Bolon scored 25 points to pace five double-figure scorers as the No. 19-ranked West Liberty University mens basketball team opened the 2021 NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional with a 94-89 victory against Malone Saturday night inside the ASRC. . Coach Ben Howletts Hilltoppers 16-4 led by as many as 16 points in the first half and never trailed after intermission against a scrappy squad of Pioneers 17-7 who carried a 10-game winning streak into the contest after claiming the G-MAC Tournament title to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid. . West Liberty is certainly no stranger to NCAA Tournament play Saturdays win pushed their NCAA post-season record to 27-11 but Howlett said he was impressed by what he saw from the visitors. . Thats a very well-schooled and well-coached basketball team, Howlett said. We got up by 16 in the first half and they cut all the way to one at the half. We had a couple runs in the second half but they kept making tough shot after tough shot. We werent perfect but we played well enough to win. . West Liberty seemed on the verge of putting the game away before halftime after opening up a 40-24 lead on a Pat Robinson jumper at 5. 25 but Malone seemed to find its tournament footing and closed the half on a 17-2 run to trail just 42-41 at the break. . We played pretty good basketball the first 10 minutes or so but we got away from ourselves in the last few minutes of the first half, Howlett said, and they took advantage of it. . The Pioneers forged the games final tie, 44-44, on a Bryce Butler 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second half but Bolon and Isaiah Watson answered with back-to-back buckets and WLU began to establish a little separation. . We passed the ball better in the second half and I thought the press wore them down a little, Howlett said. We got some easy baskets out of that. I thought Malik McKinney was really good for us again. He came up with a couple of steals and hit back-to-back threes that gave us a bit of a cushion. . A Marlon Moore free throw gave the hosts their biggest lead of the second half, 86-71, with under two minutes to play. The Pioneers closed strong with four 3-pointers in the last 90 seconds but never got closer than the final score. . Robinson and the Hilltoppers Bryce Butler backed Bolon with 15 points each while Moore posted a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. McKinney also hit double figures with 11 points off the bench. . Marcus Ernst had a huge game in defeat with 33 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor and 11-of-14 from the foul line. Malones Bryce Butler added 18 points with Jaret Majestic 14, Bo Myers 12 and Justin Miller 10 rounding out the double-figure scorers. . West Liberty advances to play No. 2 seed Charleston 14-3 in Sundays 5 p. m. regional semifinal.