Men’s Basketball wins MEC Title

West Liberty Universitys’ Men’s basketball team were crowned MEC Champions after defeating Charleston 70-59 at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling last weekend. This win secured the Toppers’ third MEC title as they remain the only program with multiple conference titles since its emergence in 2013.

They had been dominant throughout the regular season and wasted no time in picking up where they left off in the conference tournament. Led by all-region selections Bryce Butler and Pat Robinson III, WLU offensive flair was on show as they averaged 92 points per game in the tournament.

Their road to the championship was by no means an easy one, with Ohio County rivals Wheeling University awaiting them in their first March matchup. The Cardinals defeated Glenville State College in the opening round of the tournament to set up the rivalry game, a fixture that had gone in West Liberty’s favor in each of the last nine meetings between the two sides. An 89-81 win meant that they made it 10 wins in a row and progressed to the tournament semi-finals.

Another tough task awaited the Hilltoppers in the next round as they faced off against Fairmont State University for a place in the championship game, with the Falcons being one of only two teams to get the better of WLU so far this season. Even a career-high 42 points from Isaiah Sanders was not enough to stop the free-flowing Toppers as they put up a staggering 117 points to progress to the conference final.

One of the biggest takeaways from the game was a statement performance from senior guard Will Yoakum, who had a season-high 25 points having just returned from over a year out with a knee injury. In just his third start of the season, Yoakum made an impressive five three-point field goals while averaging 70% from the floor and contributing heavily to a win that meant WLU would face off against Charleston for a chance to regain the conference title.

It was the Hilltoppers offensive that secured their place in the championship game; however, it was their strong defensive performance against the Golden Eagles that ensured they were crowned MEC champions. Renowned for their offensive skill and swagger, West Liberty dug deep and modified their game — limiting their opposition to a season-low 59 points over 24 points below their season average.

Robinson continued his string of strong performances and was named on the all-tournament first team along with his teammate Yoakum, a heartfelt reward having suffered from a long-term injury just last season. Serbian forward Viktor Kovacevic led the scoring for WLU, putting up 19 points in just 22 minutes. Bryce Butler also put in an impressive performance scoring 17 points, coming off the back of being named MEC and Atlantic Region player of the year.

Head Coach, Ben Howlett was impressed with the diversity of his team’s wins throughout the week, admitting that they had to mix things up to get the job done in the championship game. “Good teams find a way to win no matter what and I thought we won three different ways this weekend,” Howlett said to Hilltopper Sports. “Tonight we had to get down in the trenches and really grind one out against a very good Charleston team. I’m really proud of these guys right now.”

Unfortunately, WLU were unable to progress in the Atlantic Region tournament as they bowed out to conference rivals West Virginia State in the opening round on Saturday. This was a season-ending loss for the Toppers who will be eager to put up a longer run in next year’s national tournament.