Rams still trying to run with whippet-like Hilltoppers
West Liberty’s racehorse style of play looks so inviting to play against.
They score quickly. You hurry down to your front court and score quickly yourself.
Back and forth the tempo flies. Your players score points in bunches. But their players score in the same sort of bunches — only their bunches are bigger than yours.
And in the end the Hilltoppers score over 100 points and they win again.
Shepherd has tried for years to outdo West Liberty at its own game. But the Hilltoppers have the patent on hurry-up basketball . . . and they do it just a little better than nearly anybody else. The Rams did keep pace until the 14:20 mark of the second half when the score was knotted at 62.
At that critical point, West Liberty could do little that was wrong. Seger Bonifant seemed to wake from a prolonged scoring slumber. Zac Grossenbacher scored on the inside like Wilt Chamberlain did against the New York Knicks when he scored 100 points in a NBA game in 1961.
David Dennis took down rebound after rebound and reserve Brady Arnold ably replaced the injured Devin Hoehn, scoring well and helping with his defense in West Liberty’s pressure.
And the Hilltoppers sprinted away to a 111-99 win in another 100-plus point showing against the Rams.
The nation’s sixth-ranked Hilltoppers improved their overall record to 20-2 and Shepherd swallowed its third straight loss to dip to 11-11 overall.
The Rams were buoyed by Ryan McTavish’s career-high 29 points and his invaluable shooting that saw him go 11-for-16 from the field and 7-of-12 from three-point distance. Skyler Roman was even more accurate, going 8-for-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from long range. Naim Muhammad doled out 10 assists and totaled 17 more Shepherd points and A.J. Carr helped with seven rebounds.
But West Liberty was at its free-flowing best as the game sped into the last 14 minutes, and repeatedly found unchallenged shots and close-in attempts with its fundamentally sound passers and dribblers.
And when the Hilltoppers reached the foul line they made 18-of-20 chances. Shooting 56.7 percent from the field (38-of-67) and registering 25 assists on their 35 field goals were other signs of just how effective West Liberty was.
Once the Hilltoppers scored the first six points of the last half to claim a 52-40 lead it became a scoring free-for-all between Shepherd’s McTavish and Bonifant and Grossenbacher until Shepherd had drawn even at 62-62.
However, the drama soon ended. And was ended in West Liberty’s favor as the Northern Panhandle furies outscored the Rams, 49-37, in the game’s last 14 minutes.
Bonifant, averaging 23.9 points a game, had been very quiet until he unleashed a scoring splurge that Shepherd couldn’t withstand.
West Liberty’s pressure defense began to pick off steals and caused a few more turnovers as the tired legs of the Rams began to betray them.
With the foul line as basically its sixth man, West Liberty was not going to be upset before the season’s largest crowd of over 1,300 onlookers.
Teams that defeat West Liberty do so by scores like 75-71 or 68-63 . . . and they don’t run after the Hilltoppers’ sprinters. Shepherd kept pace for a goodly portion of the game. But when you give up 111 points, you are not running to anything more than another loss.