By JIM ELLIOTT
WEST LIBERTY - It isn't every day that the first meeting between two schools is a conference game, but it happened Monday at the ASRC between West Liberty and Virginia-Wise.
The Cavaliers (6-3 overall, 3-3 MEC) and their pass and pray offense spent the first four minutes debunking the rumors, then the next 36 finding out everything they heard about the nation's top team was true as the Hilltoppers erased an early 11-6 deficit and went on to win going away, 116-79.
"I thought our pressure defense was good," WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. ''Even in the first half, we forced 10 turnovers, which is not a huge amount, but I felt like the ball was in jeopardy every time they had it. A few times they hung on and made the score, but I just felt like we had them uncomfortable every time they had the ball.
"Anything they had planned to run against us was kinda out the door. It was kinda survival mode. And I kinda like that."
What's not to like? Monday's victory was the 84th in the last 85 at home for the Hilltoppers (10-0, 6-0) and the 116 points hit the season average right on the nail.
Crutchfield, of course, found something. He didn't like those first four minutes.
"We're not coming out of the blocks as fast for whatever reason,'' he said. "I hope we're not just in that mentality, 'well, we'll wear them down, we'll get them when they get tired,' but the truth of the matter is, we are. It's pretty obvious."
West Liberty didn't really pull away from this one until there were roughly eight minutes left. Sure, it led by 22 at that point, but through the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Cavs and the Hilltoppers had each scored 25points. West Liberty outscored UVA-Wise 36-21 the rest of the way.
"The fact that we have good depth seems to be paying off more this year," Crutchfield said. "I've never been someone who talks about depth all the time, but it seems like some of the fresh bodies that are coming in are giving us a little spark. When the guys have a rest and they come back in, they have a little bit more juice themselves. I think our depth was important (Monday night)."
Led by 22 from Bubby Goodwin, the WLU bench wound up scoring 47 points with Devin Hoehn also reaching double-figures with 11.
Shawn Dyer led the Hilltoppers starters with 19 points, Seger Bonifant added 16, Keene Cockburn 16 and Cedric Harris finished with 12 points after a slow start. Harris added nine assists, so he was still very much a part of the offense despite a 5 of 16 shooting night.
Crutchfield didn't even mention Goodwin's points. He liked what he saw out of the redshirt sophomore's skin-tight defense.
"I thought Kelvin Goodwin played his best defensive game in his career here," Crutchfield said. "They saw opportunities and were aggressive at the right times."
Deon Boyce, the nation's leading rebounder, scored 23 points and tied an opponents' record at the ASRC with 19 rebounds.
"He was a focus of pregame talk, just the fact that he's averaging (13.6) rebounds a game to start with," Crutchfield said. "People can't keep him off the boards."
The plan was to keep Boyce from putting back his own missed shots because they noticed he did a lot of that. Barely a minute into the game, Boyce scored off his first miss.
"I yelled a little bit, but obviously it made no difference whatsoever because he continued to get rebounds," Crutchfield said.
Though the Hilltoppers won by 37, the rebounds were even at 48 each.