Saturday, December 11, 2010
No. 4 Hilltoppers Hammer No. 23 Northern Kentucky
Coach Jim Crutchfield’s Hilltoppers (8-0) hit 9 of their first 11 3-point shots after intermission and led by as many as 37 points midway through the second half before Crutchfield took his foot off the gas.
The Norse (6-2), who hadn’t given up 90 points in regulation during Coach Dave Bezold’s seven years at the helm, scored 29 of the game’s last 39 points to make the final margin a bit more respectable.
“Once again, I thought our defense really fueled our offense – especially during that run at the start of the second half,” Crutchfield said.
“There was one sequence very early where we made a shot then came up with a steal out of the press, whipped the ball around the perimeter with all five guys getting a touch and the last guy – who was wide open – knocked down another three. That kick-started about a 5-minute run which basically ended the game.”
Northern Kentucky was able to keep things relatively close during the first half as West Liberty struggled to find the range while the Norse hit 7-of-15 shots from behind the 3-point arc.
The Hilltoppers made just 5-of-16 3-point shots in the first 20 minutes and committed an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers against the battle-tested visitors who were playing their third Top 25 opponent of the season.
West Liberty’s 51-44 halftime lead was the smallest of the year for WLU but Crutchfield said he wasn’t that concerned.
“I liked the flow of the game,” Crutchfield said. “They were out-shooting us from the 3-point line and we weren’t taking care of the basketball but we were still up by 7 points so I couldn’t be too disappointed. As long as we kept getting good looks, I figured the shots would start dropping.”
The Hilltoppers’ shots started falling in bunches as soon as play resumed.
Barry Shetzer opened the second half with a 3-point bomb for a 54-44 lead and the margin never dropped below double-figures again.
The lead was at 66-53 with just under 17 minutes on the clock when one of West Liberty’s patented blitzes put the game on ice.
Jordan Fortney followed a John Wolosinczuk free throw with back-to-back 3-pointers – the second bonus bomb coming off a Corey Pelle steal – and it was 73-53 with 15:47 on the clock.
Shetzer drained another 3-pointer before Pelle came up with another steal and fed Alex Falk for a layup. When Wolosinczuk turned yet another NKU turnover into points, it capped a 14-0 run in less than two minutes and gave West Liberty an insurmountable 80-53 lead with 14:27 remaining.
The margin reached 37 points – 99-62 – on a Shetzer layup at 7:45 and the Hilltoppers coasted the rest of the way.
Pelle, who grew up less than five minutes from the Northern Kentucky campus, went over the 1,500-point mark for his career and just missed a triple-double with 19 points, 10 assists and 7 steals.
“I know this game meant a little extra to Corey,” Crutchfield said, “and he played about as well as he possibly could play. He does so many things out there that the other guys just feed off him.”
All five West Liberty starters hit double figures with Fortney’s game-high 24 points leading the way. Wolosinczuk and Shetzer added 22 points each while Falk chipped in with 11 points. Wolosinczuk just missed a double-double with a game-high 9 rebounds.
“This might have been the best game John’s had since he’s been here,” Crutchfield said. “He did a great job of putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket. He also worked really hard on the boards and played some excellent defense. He really showcased his overall game.”
Bobby Shannon and Tony Rack led Northern Kentucky with 19 points each.
West Liberty will be idle this week before closing out the pre-holiday portion of its schedule against West Virginia Wesleyan on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. at the ASRC.