WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty took the No. 1 team in the country down to the wire, but ultimately fell to Glenville State 92-83 inside the ASRC Wednesday evening.
The Hilltoppers (16-7, 11-6 MEC) hgad it as close as a five-point game with a minute and a half to play, but the Pioneers (21-0, 16-0) did just enough down the stretch to remain unbeaten.
It looked like Glenville State would pull away and make the game a blowout when they went up by 10 points midway through the third quarter, but coach Kyle Cooper’s squad fought hard to keep the game competitive until the very end.
“I loved our fight,” Cooper said after the game. “We had a very similar moment in the third quarter the last time we played them and we saw the direction that game took in the fourth. (Wednesday) we even got down double digits and kept fighting to the absolute end.”
The first time these teams met in January Glenville ran away for a 21-point victory. That never happened Wednesday, as freshman Bailee Smith scored four straight baskets to end the quarter and keep the Hilltoppers in contention.
“I think it’s the fight and I think it’s the growth to know what a possession calls for,” Cooper said. “In order to be worthy of winning, we had to understand what the worth of a play was. What happened to us in the last game, we didn’t understand that. We did today and we continued to fight and, in turn, we gave ourselves a chance even when we got into a hole.”
Glenville seemed poised to pull away again in the fourth quarter when their lead ballooned to 14 points, but again West Liberty responded, this time with an 11-3 scoring run, and the Hilltoppers kept themselves in the game.
In the end, WLU ran out of time and the Pioneers hit enough free throws in the final minute to pull off the 92-83 win.
Cooper said two telling stats in the game was the disparity in field goal attempts, 82-56 for Glenville, and West Liberty’s 30 turnovers.
“The stats definitely tell the story of the game,” Cooper said. “When they take 26 more shots than you, that’s their system. We turned the ball over too much to be successful in that game.”
Another advantage Glenville had was in depth. Nine Pioneers logged double-digit minutes played, compared to just six for West Liberty. Despite that, however, fatigue never seemed to play much of a factor in the outcome of the game.
“I think it just goes to show how hard our players have worked to be where they are,” Cooper said. “They’re in phenomenal shape and in turn, they can go long stretches (of play).”
Cooper said he and the coaching staff also used timeouts strategically to give his players as much rest as possible in key moments of the game.
“Usually, you want to keep them back (for the end of the game) and the reality was we made a commitment as a staff that we needed to make sure we were in the game in the end instead of keeping them in your back pocket,” Cooper said. “I thought that saved us in some crucial moments, especially after some big baskets.”
Re’Shawna Stone led Glenville State with a game-high 31 points, shooting 10 of 16 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free throw line. She also led the Pioneers with four steals. Zakiyah Winfield (12 points) and Dazha Congleton (10) also finished in double figures.
“I give a ton of credit to (Glenville State coach) Kim Stephens,” Cooper said. “She took a system that was already really good and…has evolved it to a place where not only do they guard you the whole length of the court, but they’re locking you down in the half court and trying harder. In turn, it’s a deadly combination and they come at you in waves.”
Audrey Tingle led West Liberty with 26 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Karly McCutcheon scored 19 with a trio of 3-pointers and Smith finished with 17. Arriana Manzay scored 12 to round out the Hilltoppers’ top scorers.
“I think when we go and watch that film, we’re going to be pretty impressed with what our kids were able to do,” Cooper said. “I just wish we could’ve taken care of the basketball better and given ourselves a chance to be a little bit closer down the stretch so we weren’t playing uphill so much.”