Men’s and Women’s basketball MEC tournament recaps

West Liberty’s Men’s and Women’s basketball teams both featured in the MEC Conference Tournament this weekend, with the Lady Toppers losing to No.18 Glenville State in the quarterfinals and the men’s side finishing as runners up after a tight loss to Fairmont State in Sunday’s final at the WesBanco Arena.

Before reaching the conference championship game, WLU’s Men’s Basketball defeated Concord and Glenville State to set up an intriguing matchup against the Falcons, who they had defeated twice already this season. Their semi-final against Glenville was the highlight of the tournament as Malik McKinney’s three point buzzer beater won the game for the Hilltoppers after the Pioneers scored two three’s in quick succession to tie the game late on. McKinney’s late winner gained a lot of media attention, featuring on ESPN and tallying thousands of views.

The championship game itself was also an entertaining one which unfortunately ended with WLU being on the wrong end of some late drama. A poor first half performance left the Toppers 12 points behind at the midway point before a Pat Robinson III inspired run at the beginning of the second half brought them back to within two points. In a game of runs, the falcons scored 12 of their next 13 shots from the floor to give themselves a comfortable 12 point lead. Twenty-two points in under two minutes got the Toppers back to within one point within 8 seconds left however some clinical free-throw shooting late on secured the championship for their opponents.

Senior guard Luke Dyer scored a career-high 24 points and five three-pointers, bettered only by Robinson who had 27 points on the night. Sophomore Owen Hazelbaker had added a season-high 12 points from the bench while MEC player of the year, Dalton Bolon made all of his five second half shots to finish with a total 12 points.

After going in as reigning conference champions, the Toppers will naturally be disappointed that they were not able to retain their title. Their season is not over just yet however as their 13-3 regular season record and conference final appearance was enough to earn them their 12th straight NCAA Division II Tournament bid where they will be the No. 3 seed in the six team Atlantic Region Tournament.

The tournament will be hosted at West Liberty with each game being played inside the ASRC with the Hilltoppers taking on No. 6 seed Malone in one of two quarterfinal matchups this Saturday March 13. The other teams making up the tournament lineup include Fairmont State, Hillsdale, Mercyhurst and Charleston with the winner gaining a place in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eight, which will be held at the Ford Center in Evansville the following weekend. Head Coach Ben Howlett will be hoping that All-MEC First Team selections Bolon and Robinson will continue their regular season form to help the Toppers go deep in this year’s tournament.

West Liberty’s Women’s Basketball were up against large odds from the beginning of the tournament as they faced No. 18 Glenville State in their quarterfinal matchup on Friday. The Pioneers came into the game as the nation’s highest scoring team and they showed their offensive talent in the fourth quarter, scoring 41 points to secure a 118-87 win.

The Lady Toppers gave a valiant effort against the eventual conference runners up and took the lead multiple times in the third quarter. All-MEC senior duo Olivia Belknap and Audrey Tingle were stand out performers, scoring 36 and 15 points respectively. Tingle was one rebound short of recording a second triple-double of the season, a feat that no Division II woman has accomplished this season.

Finishing the season with a 8-9 record, Head Coach Kyle Cooper will be hoping that his team can build on their performances from this season and put together another tournament run next year.