West Liberty's Keene Cockburn (33) puts up a shot during Thursday's game against West Virginia State.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- On the surface, West Virginia State's 113-74 loss to West Liberty Thursday night in Institute was an improvement, at least in comparison to a 60-point drubbing the Yellow Jackets were handed by the Hilltoppers back in December.Under the surface, though, State coach Bryan Poore was seething."They're a very smart basketball team, and they play together," Poore said of the Hilltoppers, who improved to 19-1 overall, 13-1 in the West Virginia Conference and are ranked No. 3 in the nation in NCAA Division II. "They are a team."Then he pointed to the closed door of his own locker room, to the team that is now 7-13 overall, 5-10 in the WVC and losers of five of their last six games.
"Those guys in there right now are not a team, and that's the difference between us and [West Liberty]," Poore said. "These guys don't get along with each other, and until they can become a team, I can't do anything. I can't call any plays if they don't play together. That's exactly what's wrong with us."To be fair to the Jackets, West Liberty put on another exhibition of its season-long clinic Thursday. The Hilltoppers' trademark pressure defense, great ball movement and 3-point barrage were all on display at Fleming Hall.West Liberty connected on 16 3-pointers (compared to just one for State), had assists on 35 of its 44 field goals (State had just three assists on 24 field goals) and forced the Yellow Jackets into 26 turnovers (West Lib committed 10).The Hilltoppers defeated State 119-59 at West Liberty on Dec. 4, but coach Jim Crutchfield said his team played a better game against the Jackets this time around."I knew there was absolutely no way that could happen again," Crutchfield said of the earlier blowout. "I think things kind of snowballed on [State] up there. But I thought we played a better game tonight than we did the first time."State trailed by just one point, 8-7, three minutes into the game, then West Liberty blew down the doors with a 15-0 run that set the tone for the rest of the night. From the 17-minute mark of the first half until the 7:31 mark - a span of 91/2 minute, or nearly a quarter of the contest - the Yellow Jackets did not score a field goal.That drought ended when Anton Hutchins, who finished with a team-high 24 points for State, hit a floater in the lane.West Liberty carried a 53-26 lead into the halftime break. At that point, State, as a team, had one assist against 17 turnovers.Those are the kinds of numbers Crutchfield stresses."Our big thing is, we want to have a great turnover differential, and we did," he said. "I thought we had a great level of intensity tonight. I never thought we'd come down here and beat a good team like this by 30-something points."Cedric Harris led the Hilltoppers' balanced attack with 18 points, including 12 on four 3-pointers early in the second half. Tim Hausfeld (15 points), Mike Lamberti (12) and Chris Morrow and Keene Cockburn (11 each) also scored in double figures.
For State, David Ford joined Hutchins in double figures with 17 points, including 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.West Liberty has won five straight since its only loss of the season, a 101-96 setback to the University of Charleston two weeks ago at Eddie King Gym. The Hilltoppers will get a chance to avenge that defeat when the Golden Eagles visit West Liberty on Feb. 11.State, meanwhile, hopes to regroup for its next game, which comes Saturday at home against WVC cellar dweller Bluefield State.Poore is hoping for a minor miracle down the stretch."How do we turn it around? We hope and pray they become a team," he said. "Hopefully they'll go over to the dorms tonight and the Fairy Godmother will come down and tap them on the head and we'll become a team."BRIEFLY: Twelve players saw action for West Liberty, and each one of them attempted at least one 3-pointer. ... Rebounding was close to even, with State holding a 47-44 edge on the boards. Morrow, a 6-foot-6 senior, was credited with six blocked shots for West Liberty. ... State outscored West Liberty 25-9 at the foul line, but the Jackets missed 15 of their 40 tries.
Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or email@example.com.