Pitt-Johnstown did everything it could to slow down high-powered West Liberty.
The Mountain Cats played aggressive man defense. When that didn’t work, they sunk into a 2-3 zone – something the Mountain Cats rarely do.
Like any defense thrown at the Hilltoppers the past several seasons, nothing Pitt-Johnstown did worked effectively against Division II’s third-ranked team as West Liberty wore down the hosts for a 98-83 victory Thursday night at the Sports Center.
“You try to control the tempo, but it’s tough,” said Pitt-Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina. “We have guys who can score. We’re a good offensive team, but the difference is they made 17 3-pointers out of
35 attempts. You can’t do that running through warm-ups.”
West Liberty (26-1), which raised its West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic conference-leading record to 20-1, certainly can.
The Hilltoppers continually looked for the long-range shot from every position on the court.
Big men Chris Morrow (18 points) and Seger Bonifant (11 points) combined to make nine 3-pointers, and when the Hilltoppers weren’t making shots from every possible angle and distance, they dissected the game Pitt-Johnstown defense for looks inside. That’s where senior Alex Falk, part of a class that won its 120th game on Thursday, did much of his work on way to a game-high 32 points.
“We see teams that have a very hard time getting out to our shooters,” West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. “If they do, we look to drive lanes and we tend to get layups.”
Pitt-Johnstown (14-11, 10-11) hung with West Liberty into the second half behind strong play from senior guards Nick Novak and Jordan Miller and some help from
6-9 center Ian Vescovi (17 points).
“No matter how much you try, if you don’t play that way every day, they start to bother you,” Miller said. “That’s a very good offensive team.”
Novak finished with 27 points on 11 of
20 shooting and Miller scored 14 points, but the Mountain Cats were outscored 21-9 during a key second-half stretch after pulling within 68-65 on a Novak layup.
“We stuck with them for a half while all our energy was going,” Novak said. “In the second half, we started getting tired and they don’t make mistakes and they’re always ready to take advantage of your mistakes.”
The Pitt-Johnstown women hung with West Liberty for more than a half. In fact, the Lady Cats controlled most of the game before a late second-half spurt by the Hilltoppers forced overtime and led to a 98-90 West Liberty victory.
Hillary Southworth, the second-leading scorer in Division II, finished with 43 points for the Hilltoppers (18-7, 16-5), who trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and 74-61 late in the second half.
“I preach to them to play hard for 40 minutes. They played hard, but some things cost us at the end,” Pitt-Johnstown coach Sasha Palmer said.
Kaitlynn Fratz and Nicole Carman scored 24 points apiece for UPJ.
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