INDIANA, Pa. – The No. 7-seeded West Virginia State University men’s basketball team upset the No. 2-seeded West Liberty Hilltoppers, 103-94, in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament on Saturday afternoon.
The thrilling overtime win at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex sent WLU packing and left WVSU as the only Mountain East Conference school remaining in the Round of 32 of the NCAA DII Championship. This is the first time that WVSU has qualified for the Atlantic Regional since 2010 and it is the fifth time that State has advanced to the second round.
Five Yellow Jackets scored in double-digits including Glen Abram (26 points), Noah Jordan (22 points), Dwaine Jones (16 points), Jeremiah Moore (15 points) and Anthony Pittman (15 points). Jordan registered a double-double with 12 rebounds as did Moore with 11 boards. Pittman was one rebound away from a double-double while Abram was two assists away.
West Liberty quickly gained a seven-point lead, 9-2, within three minutes of the opening tip. After Noah Jordan made a fastbreak layup off Glen Abram’s steal, the Hilltoppers rushed out in front with nine unanswered.
The deficit reached double-figures, 16-6, around the 14-minute mark when WLU’s Will Yoakum knocked down a jumper. That was as far as the Yellow Jackets allowed the game to slip in the first half.
They steadfastly chipped away at the lead until they were back within two points, 22-20, with ten minutes to go. Bradlee Lewis kicked off the 7-0 run that tightened up the score with a three-pointer. Dwaine Jones accounted for the other four points with a jumper and a fastbreak layup off Anthony Pittman’s steal.
A series of threes made by WVSU finally overturned the deficit with seven minutes remaining. Abram hit two shots from behind the arc before Ernest Jenkins gave State the lead, 31-29, with a three-point bucket of his own.
The lead did not last long with West Liberty scoring seven unanswered over the next two-and-a-half minutes. WLU ended up back on top by five, 36-31, with less than five minutes until halftime.
Another trey by Abram followed up by a dunk from Jordan tied the score at 36-all around the three-minute mark. Down the final stretch of the first stanza, the Hilltoppers were able to inch back out in front. Yoakum drew a foul with three seconds left on the clock and made both of his free throws to create a four-point differential, 46-42, at halftime.
WLU managed to hold on to its lead for the majority of the second half, but the Yellow Jackets kept West Liberty within their grasp. The start of the second stanza was closely contested by the MEC opponents up until the 11:21 mark when the Hilltoppers seized a nine-point edge, 71-62, following a put-back layup by Bryce Butler.
WVSU flipped the script over the next two minutes with a 10-0 run to take the lead, 72-71. Two WLU turnovers coupled with four points from Abram and two each by Jones, Jordan and Pittman made up the tide-turning stretch.
For the remaining nine minutes of regulation, scoring went back-and-forth between the two teams and no more than four points separated them. With just under two minutes left, West Liberty’s Pat Robinson hit a jumper to give his team the slight advantage, 88-86.
The Hilltoppers managed to take two more shots in the last two minutes but missed both. After the second miss, Jordan grabbed the rebound with 18 seconds left and passed it to Abram. Abram then took the rock upcourt and drove into the lane to draw a foul with less than four seconds to go. He then confidently sank both of his free throws to send the game into overtime, 88-88.
West Virginia State scored the first four points in overtime to go ahead, 92-88. West Liberty then scored the next four to tie it up, 92-92, with three minutes remaining. A shooting slump for the Hilltoppers ensued afterward in which they missed five shot attempts, including three from three-point range.
Pittman then grabbed a defensive rebound and ran the length of the court for a driving layup before Jones knocked down a three-pointer. WVSU was left with a six-point lead, 98-92, following 1-of-2 free throws made by Pittman with 30 seconds remaining.
The Hilltoppers’ quick layup after Pittman’s trip to the charity stripe ended up being their last two points. West Virginia State was sent to the free-throw line three more times and made 5-of-6 shots to give the game its final score, 103-94.
Three-point shooting made the difference in the contest. The Hilltoppers shot themselves out of it by shooting 7-of-35, or 20 percent, from behind the arc. On the other hand, the Yellow Jackets shot 9-of-17, or 53 percent, from three-point range.
West Virginia State advances to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Division II Championship with the overtime win. The Yellow Jackets will face No. 3-seeded Cal (Pa.) in the semifinals of the Atlantic Regional Sunday at 5 p.m. to see if they can move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
Courtesy: West Virginia State Athletics